As California’s green economy continues to grow, so too must the workforce
That’s where California’s community colleges are taking the lead in producing certified workers and graduates to fill the needs of businesses clamoring to capitalize on the continuously evolving new economic sector.
“Over the last two or three years there has been a real focus on green tech and jobs by the Chancellor’s Office,” said Ray York, the dean of the Economic and Workforce Development (EWD) Division. “There’s been this emerging demand for workers who are trained in solar, wind, alternative fuels, alternative transportation and biotech. And our community colleges are responding to market demands by being nimble and relevant enough to respond to needs, a rapid change in skill sets and provide a customized workforce.”
“There’s been this emerging demand for workers who are trained in solar, wind, alternative fuels, alternative transportation and biotech...”
Dean of Economic and Workforce
The EWD Division helps create pipelines between community colleges and businesses to ensure that there are jobs waiting at the end of the certification period or the degree path.
A for-credit course can take years to plan and implement, York said, but an EWD program can sometimes take just weeks to design and roll out. A business owner can come to the Chancellor’s Office, make a request for trainees to have certain skill sets, and a specific certificate course of between six to 18 weeks can be in place in just a short time to help students reach their goals of having skilled, high-tech jobs with a secure future.
“The industries tell us what they want, we bring in the experts and develop a curriculum,” said Jose Anaya, the initiative director for the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, which is part of the chancellor’s EWD program. “We have hundreds of partnerships. Companies such as Boeing, Alcoa, Boston Scientific, Advanced Bionics and Northrop Grumann all have partnerships with us and we, the community colleges, provide those companies with the trained workforce.”
But it’s not just Fortune 500 companies who benefit from the high-tech trained community college students building tomorrow’s solar photovoltaic panels or large wind turbines. Anaya said the smaller businesses that are typically subcontractors and have perhaps 10 to 15 employees also are clamoring for those students.
Most of California’s 112 community colleges offer some type of green tech classes. Those courses may include photovoltaic panel installation and repair, green construction practices and biotechnology courses leading to careers in agriculture, medicine and environmental forensics. Biotech is a live science that focuses on the sub-cellular level – DNA, RNA and proteins – to produce better crops and to create quicker and more accurate environmental tests.
Jeffrey O’Neal is the director of the North Valley and Mountain Biotechnology Center at American River College in Sacramento. He said biotechnology is becoming an increasingly popular academic and career path.
“Biotechnology is really hot right now and students are starting to notice the field more,” O’Neal said. “Biotech supports California’s economic growth and it’s one of the few industries that’s growing in the state despite the economy.”
The center was founded in 1998 and is funded by a grant from the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office. It’s another project of the EWD Division. In a recent success story, 12 former workers from the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont were retrained for biotech careers. The laid-off workers received instruction at Fremont’s Ohlone College and have reentered the workforce. Some have gone into medical biotech while others are working in environmental forensics, two of the hottest classifications within the biotech field, O’Neal said.
“With personal medicine our students can look at a person’s genome and suggest a better course of action for that particular individual,” O’Neal said. “Environmental forensics has security applications for detecting pathogens that may have been placed in a water supply by terrorists, for instance, or testing water for chemical runoff contamination. Biotech is really growing.”
For more information on the Chancellor’s Office Economic and Workforce Development Division, go here.
For more information on the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies, go here.
For more information on the North Valley and Mountain Biotechnology Center, go here.