A Whirlwind in Barstow Creating Job-Ready Students

Person holding welding equipment

Barstow Community College logoBarstow, California – March 2018.  Sandi Thomas is a force of nature. A business owner, she is also an academic. The longtime Dean of Instruction and Workforce Development at Barstow Community College operates from a location that looks more like a warehouse or a factory than a community college. And she produces workers ready for local industry.

Person standing next to new car

One of her most important tools is a state grant that started in 2016 called “Strong Workforce.” The money allowed her to purchase new tools, new equipment and to hire new instructors to make sure that hiring officials at nearby businesses had a trained and ready workforce. That money allowed her to upgrade a forklift simulator machine that was out of date.

“Now we have a forklift,” she said triumphantly. She considers it a victory when students are working on the actual piece of equipment used in today’s workplace.

“I hired a full time welding instructor with that Strong Workforce money,” she said. “And in the case of HVAC (air conditioning and heat) class, the business owners are actually teaching the class.”

Person holding welding equipmentThat makes it a very quick road from student to worker, as the training is specifically geared to the realities of the current job force.

Generally, Thomas has a goal of turning students into workers within a year or two of enrollment in their program. “I want to get these students out to the jobs where they are needed,” she said. She does that by using some online classes, some hands on instruction, and giving credit for work experience in some cases where she can work with partners in industry who pay well for skilled labor.  “Edison is a partner,” she said. They have some jobs that pay $38 per hour.

Programs that draw a total of 200 people on a typical day include welding; automotive repair; industrial maintenance; electrical; photography; warehouse logistics; management and business; among many others. She is working on adding a program in mechatronics, which combines robotics and machine learning.

Person holding welding equipmentShekky Bowen, 18, is a Barstow High School graduate who is in the welding program. He works at a burger place in town but he would like to trade that for a career as a welder. He has his eyes on employers such as the railroads, as BNSF and Union Pacific have railway yards nearby. He said he loves that Barstow Community College offers hands on training on the right equipment. He has also had good success with mock job interviews with railway managers.

Another student in the welding program is Daniel Burgett, 51, who grew up in Barstow and spent 25 years fighting fires. Now he is retired from firefighting and training for a second career as a welder. “To get in the door you need a depth of experience,” he said. He credited Sandi Thomas with finding industry experts willing to teach at the community college level. “I’ve never seen a dean interact with the students like she does,” he said. “She will bring employers in here ready to pick you up for a job.”

He said the Barstow program is so well run that he has seen people from other areas flock in to take classes.


Strong Workforce Program: To develop more workforce opportunity and lift low-wage workers into living-wage jobs, California took a bold step in 2016 to create one million more middle-skill workers. At the recommendation of the California Community College Board of Governors, the Governor and Legislature approved the Strong Workforce Program, adding a new annual recurring investment of over $200 million to spur career technical education (CTE) in the nation’s largest workforce development system of 114 colleges.  For more information about Strong Workforce, please visit:  http://doingwhatmatters.cccco.edu/StrongWorkforce/Overview.aspx.