OPINION: By Vanessa Thomas, associate dean of the program at Chaffey College, explains.
The Ways of Work
California launched the Strong Workforce Program in 2016, investing $248 million per year to lift low-wage workers into living-wage jobs by creating workforce development programs at 113 California community colleges.
How is it doing three years later and how is it helping students and employers in the Inland Empire?
Vanessa Thomas, associate dean of the program at Chaffey College, explains.
Q: What is a Strong Workforce?
A: Strong Workforce satisfies the emerging needs of the industry by giving the students the skillsets they need to qualify for living-wage jobs. Students get hands-on training with state-of-the-art equipment currently being used in the field so they can transition seamlessly from the classroom into entry-level jobs. This ultimately bridges the skills gap between labor and industry. This program has seen great success throughout the state, including where I serve at Chaffey College. We awarded more than 2,000 career and technical education degrees and certificates – programs under Strong Workforce – in May. This represents a nearly 40 percent increase from five years ago. And the success rates for our students taking these courses is about 10 percent higher than students taking other courses.
Q: What are the top six job areas in the Inland Empire?
A: Students interested in pursuing in-demand careers in this region should consider college majors that encompass:
- Advanced manufacturing – including industrial maintenance and robotics technicians, machinists, and welders
- Advanced transportation and logistics
- Business and entrepreneurship
- Energy, construction, and utilities
- Information communication technology and digital media – including cybersecurity
Q: How are Strong Workforce programs different than other programs at community colleges?
A: Strong Workforce programs are intended to make students qualified for a job right after earning an associate’s degree or certificate. But they don’t have to stop there. These students have the option to continue on to earn bachelor’s and other advanced degrees for even better jobs.
Q: What lies in the future for the industry in the Inland Empire?
A: Our No. 1 industry here in the Inland Empire is logistics. The future of the logistics industry is automation, which is kind of scary because that means that some lower-skilled workers could lose their jobs. But we have alternatives for them to be retrained in a skillset that will allow them to feed their families. We can train them in mechatronics and industrial automation because that’s where it’s going. Then students can design, build and maintain that equipment.
Q: Can students actually get good jobs on associate’s degrees alone?
A: Yes. We’ve had students earn management positions in the auto industry, journalism internships with the Walt Disney Company, industrial electrical technician positions with California Steel Industries and more. And that’s just with an associate’s degree. Some of these students who have gone on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees have been hired or promoted to even higher-paying jobs in their chosen fields.