Community Colleges are charged with training the future workforce yet; many see its primary role as that of transferring students to four-year colleges and universities. That is but one focus of the community colleges, the other equally important responsibility is Career Technical Education (CTE).
In its initiative, Putting America to Work, The American Association of Community Colleges recognizes that if our country is going to maintain its economic competitiveness in the global marketplace, America needs to address the talent shortage and skill gaps of our workforce. Through CTE, community colleges are the proven solution to help American industry fill those gaps. In response, some colleges are now recruiting some students still in high school to begin training the workforce for tomorrow.
One such pioneering plan is known as the California Career Pathways Trust, established in 2013 by the California State Legislature to prepare students for the 21st century workplace. Through Putting America to Work, community colleges are now establishing working partnerships to create a pipeline of skilled workers… starting with training in high school.
The Ventura County Community College District, which includes Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura Colleges, is engaged in a regional consortium centered on CTE. Over the next five years, seven high school districts, three adult schools, and over 50 employers/community partners in Ventura County will take part in “Ventura County Innovates” to develop 67 separate career pathways for students. Using grant dollars, the consortium is designed to better prepare our future workers and leaders for local workforce, provide work-based opportunities for students and address skill shortages in high-demand, high growth industries/occupations. Over the next five years, the project will create streamlined career “pathways” that let students begin studying for careers while still in high school and transition seamlessly into community college. The consortium will provide internships, job shadowing and other kinds of hands-on experiences to help prepare students for real-life work. The main focus of the Career Pathways Trust centers on highly skilled technical careers such as manufacturing, engineering and biotechnology where there is increasing industry demand for workers. Through this project community colleges are continuing to foster their mission by collaborating with local businesses to ensure worker skills gaps are closed by teaching students the modern skills employers are looking for. The California Pathways Project is committed to preparing and training our students for measureable success with 21st century skills and stands as a great example of Putting America to Work!
As the Nation recovers from the depressive economy of the first decade of the 21st century we are growing again and now that the economy is improving. Hopefully, the California Legislature will provide stable funding for the next three years so that we can plan properly to serve our students. Access, student success and equity in terms of serving our various constituencies is our strategy. Increasingly effective career and occupational programs are a priority for us.
We know that those who earn certificates and degrees, also earn more money leading to an enhanced standard of living. Putting America to work includes traditional students with whom we all identify. It also includes those with special needs such as foster youth, veterans, retreading adults changing careers and within these cohorts, serving those with different cultural backgrounds. Examples include Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and those with various disabilities that can benefit from various programs. Our 1200 plus community colleges, now located in almost every congressional district provide the nation a special vehicle for serving our workforce. Since I happen to be an administrator in California, I have described our state situation. The need is national and the opportunity to put America to work is nationwide.
Dr. Jamillah Moore is Chancellor of the Ventura County (CA) Community College District.