Adversity into Advantages: How Career Ed is Combatting a Crisis

The layoffs seemed to happen in a blink of an eye. But for many of the workers displaced by the chaos of COVID-19, the last eight months have amounted to an eternity.

In recent studies highlighted by Politico Magazine, about one in three people either worked a different job in September than they did in February or were unemployed. Those shifts were especially likely to affect younger workers in impacted industries like retail and hospitality. 

The decline was fast. But Career Education was faster

Already set up to pivot to the needs of a rapidly evolving workforce, the Inland Empire/Desert Regional Community Colleges found an even higher gear, refocusing its resources and efforts on recession-proof skills and training. And while the Inland-Desert region still faces an uphill battle to return to pre-crisis prosperity, it’s well-equipped for the fight. 

“Career Education is about reeducation, retraining and reemploying our students and community,” says Danielle Jeffers, Job Developer at Barstow Community College. “Our nation at large is in high demand for such actions.”

Rising to meet demand are institutions like Barstow Community College, where affordable education helps thousands of students adapt their career goals. The College offers low- and nocost enrollment, in addition to the free-college Promise Program and dual enrollment partnerships, offering accessible career pathways to learners from all walks of life. 

A four-year degree — and the staggering debt that often comes with it — are no longer the only ticket to a well-paying job. In fact, according to Jeffers, when choosing to launch a new career at BCC, “You can get the experience you need in as little as 18 weeks.”

In addition to traditional credit pathways, BCC’s Career Technical Education department is developing new non-credit offerings that will allows students to take non-credit courses at no cost to catapult into new careers. Free programs will include the Trade Technician Certificate, where learners build a foundation in construction, plumbing, welding, and electrical, as well as the Sales Certificate, which covers Salesforce training, digital literacy and essential skills. 

“This program is in high demand,” says Jeffers. “Current industry demands need a skilled workforce in this area.”

And despite the pandemic, regional community colleges continue to help students secure competitive jobs and internships. 

At Moreno Valley College, hundreds of students receive weekly updates showcasing job openings, with companies like AT&T, Coca-Cola, Skechers, and Cambrian Homecare now sharing their positions. Meanwhile, the school has successfully helped its dental trainees land externships, setting them up to flourish with hiring employers.  

“The collaboration between our industry partners and our College keeps expanding,” says Nikki Cook, Employment Placement Coordinator at Moreno Valley College. “We ask them what their workforce needs are and see how we can help by expanding our programs or making our College available to their existing employees.”

Likewise, at Mt. San Jacinto College, job opportunities continue to knock despite coronavirus curveballs. In September, aspiring agents attended a “meet and greet” with the FBI, which encouraged students to apply for summer internships. Continuing Education is also working closely with the local Carpenter’s Union and Habitat for Humanity to increase the construction program’s hands-on possibilities. 

To top it off, the College is spearheading an apprenticeship program with the automotive industry to get beginners in the fast-lane to new vehicular vocations.

“With the ever-changing work environment and the movement into high tech systems processes, many applicants are turning to community college to enhance and engage their knowledge,” says Carrie Tate Meyer, Job Developer and Placement Coordinator at Mt. San Jacinto College. The school is helping students pivot into new positions with positive paychecks:

“The ability to get a quick-turnaround certification or upgraded skills allows MSJC to move forward and meet the community’s needs.”

It’s a similar story to that of Victor Valley College, which was able to help fulfill General Atomics’ demand for over 600 new employees. According to Lisa Kiplinger Kennedy, Regional Director of Business & Entrepreneurship at Victor Valley College, the business was previously forced to recruit from all over the country, rendering the process both costly and inefficient.  

To develop the local talent pipeline, General Atomics worked with VVC to create an avionics apprenticeship program. The company also donated about $7 million worth of equipment to prepare recruits for real-world employment with the latest resources.

According to the regional director: “They are currently training the third cohort of students, who are all guaranteed jobs when they complete the program.”

It’s the perfect example of how community colleges are uniquely positioned to quickly train skilled workers for new and expanding positions. Because two-year schools can adapt so much faster than universities, Kiplinger Kennedy says that they “are able to create credit and not-for-credit courses very rapidly to respond to the needs of employers.”

For Barstow Community College, which boasts 22 new CTE certifications, aligning with industry needs is at the heart of serving students looking for career changes and upgrades.

“We work locally within our community and with local business industries to be extremely responsive to changing industry needs,” says Jeffers. 

In particular, Barstow’s Welding program has dramatically expanded due to local demand, with new steel and aluminum fabrication courses taught on industry-standard equipment. With as little as four classes, students can receive a stackable certificate and be well on their way to the workforce.

Across campus, Barstow’s Computer and Business Information Systems program supplies highly desirable certifications, including Computer and Cyber Security Specialist and Computer and Network Specialist training. According to Jeffers, “With IT opportunities in every industry and the ability to work remotely, these new certificates have been extremely popular.”

By following local, state and national job market trends, the region’s community colleges help fill industry needs, connect students to employers, and change lives. Thus, it’s no surprise that schools are eager to help learners get through these difficult times by increasing available resources.

From mapped Wi-Fi hot spots to housing insecurity programs, food pantries, and free bus passes, students are well-supported on their career journeys. These crucial resources may not be available outside of community college. So, in conjunction with cutting-edge Career Education, it’s a win-win for those looking to up their game and their pay grade.

“We are helping students feel secure enough in these uncertain times to find out what they want to do in their futures,” says Jeffers, who is proud to help people find the purpose, direction, and skills they need to transform their lives. “Career Technical Education and Barstow Community College are helping them start over and start anew.”

Throughout the Inland Empire/Desert Region, students are turning a tumultuous time into a tremendous opportunity. Just ask Crystal Hernandez, a community college grad who earned her associate in nursing this past May and is now a Registered Nurse at Hemet Global Medical Center. 

“I felt the [Mt. San Jacinto College] staff truly cared about our success and our future,” says the thriving alumna.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Hernandez found the fast-track to a caring career. She transferred from university to community college, and not only did she knock out her prerequisites for a fraction of the cost, but she also benefitted from unbeatable, high-touch support. 

From resume help to an internship with her future employer, she credits community college for helping her land the perfect job just two days after receiving her nursing license. 

For students like Hernandez, community colleges are truly a place where career aspirations can come true:

“MSJC made it possible to reach my dream.”