Jun 24 2021

Dunn and Done: OC’s Community Colleges Offer Competitive Advantage for Economic Recovery

The business landscape shifted, a once in a century change has occurred. Massive layoffs, businesses shuttering, record high unemployment, this was economic story of Orange County, as it was for the country and the world. Now, here we are. With the continuing success of vaccines, the state’s reopening, we are all focused on Orange County’s economic recovery.
Orange County has a secret weapon (or more like nine) to catalyze the economy to the sub 3% unemployment rate, highest median income, and highest per capita GRP in Southern California that Orange County is accustomed to having. These are our community colleges. Serving nearly 300,000 students every semester, Orange County’s community colleges are the largest providers of higher education in the region. To put it in perspective, Orange County is tied for the highest college going rate in California with 76% of high school graduates going on to post-secondary education, and of all those high school graduates, over half attend community colleges.

Furthermore, community colleges serve as more than a just a pit stop for teenagers on their way to a bachelor’s degree. Actually, over half of Orange County’s community college students are over the age of 25. They are your current employees and co-workers looking to improve their economic prospects, and most likely that of their family, by going back to school. With so many residents, young and old, going through the community college system, the colleges have truly been the backbone to our workforce development, and must remain so with so many people still out of work or out of the labor force altogether.

Community colleges are uniquely positioned to be the leader of this county’s economic rebound as leaders in career education and certifications, which allow for a more direct and hands on learning experience than a typical classroom setting. The ability to quickly and in an affordable manner, create marketable skills for the workforce, will be critical to not only get people back on their feet, but them in a position for higher skill and better paying work. It is this nimbleness that is not only critical for the region to bounce back, but accelerate past this recession with an even more talented workforce than we entered it.

Community colleges have already built career pathways for the largest or fastest growing sectors in Orange County, such as Healthcare, Hospitality and Tourism, Information & Communication Technology, Construction, Advanced Transportation, Advanced Manufacturing, Biotechnology and Business and Entrepreneurship; these aren’t just the shop classes of yore.

The innovative courses in 3D printing, cloud computing, medical sonography, robotics and much more, directly connect students with careers that will pay the wages necessary to be able to live comfortably in this county.

So what can we do to maximize this incredible resource? All employers must invest and partner with community colleges now, more than ever, so they can quickly train the unemployed and underemployed to become capable prospects for hire.

Businesses collaboration with community colleges can play a transformational role in education, and ultimately the economy, by creating an education system where career readiness is at its core, and not some ancillary feature. Business collaboration will build an education system that provides practical training, not just theoretical knowledge via lecture. Business collaboration can provide this education system with scenarios and simulations for future workers to be better at “soft skills” like idea fluency, deductive and inductive reasoning, teamwork and communication that are critical in this rapidly changing 21st century economy.

If you are a business owner or manager and have a specific hiring need, contact your local community college. Advise departments on what jobs you’re hiring for, work with faculty on what skills needs to be taught in your field to be employable, offer learning opportunities at your company. You’ll have a direct pipeline of motivated and talented future employees, which will better equip Orange County for an economic recovery.

Community colleges have been Orange County’s secret weapon for too long, it is time we turn them into a leading act, a secret no longer.

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