Community Colleges and Job Training: The NY Times Asleep Again

Michael Bernick
Counsel with the international law firm of Duane Morris LLP, a Milken Institute Fellow and former Director of the California Employment Development Department

The New York Times has done it again in an article last Saturday, August 15, on community colleges and job training. The article is worth noting for how clueless it is of the wide range of job training and economic development activities being undertaken by community colleges, as well as how it misses the key challenges for future community college programs.

The article, “College is Model for Retooling U.S. Workforce” by Steven Greenhouse, focuses on Sinclair Community College in downtown Dayton. Greenhouse breaks the news that Sinclair is pioneering a new model of community college involvement in job training, and especially in retraining laid-off workers. Sinclair staff work closely with local employers to design customized training. The college works with local elected officials to identify potential growth industries in technology, including aerospace research and development, and advanced materials and manufacturing—industries that Dayton is trying to attract to the region. The college reaches out to high school students who might not think of attending college, and to workers laid off from General Motors, Delphi and other auto-related industries.

Though by all accounts Sinclair has developed a fine job training program, reporter Greenhouse does not ask any difficult questions, such as placement and retention rates. For example, we are told that Sinclair is retraining thousands of laid-off workers, but we are not told how many placements are actually made in, say aerospace research, in which the jobs created usually are small.

More important, anyone who has dealt with community colleges knows that over the past decade the majority have developed close ties with local employers and tie training to jobs. As my colleague David Gruber notes, this sophistication in job training is especially true among California community colleges, who have developed keen understanding of the existing projected job markets in their regions, and customized training to meet the needs of existing and entering employers.

The list of customized training programs in California is long, and here are just a few examples: Skyline College for years has partnered with Genentech for customized training of biotech technicians; Laney College is partnering with Siemens and other employers on an environmental controls technician training; Harbor College is partnering with the oil refineries on a refinery technician training, Los Angeles Trade Tech and Southern California Edison are doing a customized training of utility workers, Santa Monica Community College and Los Angeles County MTA have partnered on a diesel mechanic training. The Los Angeles Community College District alone has a range of customized training, and is continually looking for new opportunities.

Further, California community colleges are engaged in economic development strategies that go beyond job training, including entrepreneurship programs and a sophisticated career ladders program, run out of the Chancellor’s office.

In California, as elsewhere, we are entering a retraining economy, in which retraining and lifelong learning will be the norm, not the exception. Most workers can expect to have a number of different occupations over their work lives. They can also expect to be in a number of different roles: as employee, as self-employed, as entrepreneur. The community colleges already are at the center of this retraining economy, and their role only will grow.

Will someone please wake up the New York Times.

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