Contract Education Responds Rapidly to Employee Training Needs During COVID-19 with Shift to Online Learning

As California businesses work to recover from the impact of COVID-19, employee training will play a critical role as the need for new skillsets emerge in the pandemic and post-pandemic workplace. Contract education units at California community colleges have provided skills training for businesses for years and are known for being able to quickly design and deliver employee training that is tailored to employers’ exact needs.

Statewide ‘Expanding Capacity’ Report

In a statewide research report, the Community College ETP Collaborative, which represents contract education units at 28 California community colleges, takes a look at how contract education could use an infusion of funding to upskill employees at more local businesses, helping them to recover from the pandemic – and in doing so, helping the state to recover. In “Expanding Capacity to Meet California’s One Million ‘Middle-Skilled’ Workforce Challenge by 2025,” the Collaborative positions contract education as one solution to assist with the state’s economic recovery and a viable way to help the state meet its goal of 1 million more middle-skilled workers – those who have more than a high school diploma but less than a 4-year degree – by 2025.

(Read report executive summary.)

Each of the colleges in the Collaborative receives support from the state’s Employment Training Panel to help cover the cost of upskilling current employees working at California businesses and is advocating for additional funding of $6 million in 2020-21 and an additional $10 million a year for upskill training for the long term.

In the report, the Collaborative refers to California’s contract education units as Workforce Training & Development Centers, or WTDCs, and explains that “WTDCs are uniquely positioned to help California meet the moment – directly meeting the needs and demands of employers in achieving recovery. WTDCs are the only California Community Colleges program that has the flexibility and nimbleness to change direction on a moment’s notice, working hand-in-hand with California businesses.”

Planting a Seed for a Paradigm Shift

The overarching goal, Eldon Davidson explains, is planting a seed for a paradigm shift in how education is viewed. Davidson, who serves as director for the Center for Customized Training at El Camino College, initially started the Collaborative in 2014 and provided its early direction. Today, Annie Rafferty, director of Contract Education, Training & Development for the Butte-Glenn Community College District, collaborates with a group of key college workforce leaders to lead the effort.

Davidson says that for years, when people have thought about education, the focus – and the funding – has been primarily on K-12 and postsecondary education and not about the education that takes place over the decades-long span of one’s career.

But his research shows that no matter whether workers are college graduates, have only some college under their belts or earned a high school diploma as their highest level of education, they all continue to need upskill training throughout their careers.

“It would be to the state’s advantage to fund upskilling one’s career for the next thirty to forty years,” Davidson said. “The return on investment would most likely exceed the costs and place California in the top tier in being competitive on a global scale.”

Training That Results in Instant Skills

Continuous education, or lifelong learning, is needed among working adults. Because technology and job requirements are continually changing, employees have to be taught new skills to keep up. Upskilling employees, especially frontline, entry-level and low- and middle-skilled workers whose jobs are at risk of being disrupted, is critical for businesses to be able to thrive.

And there is a whole group of Californians – 20 million plus of them in the 25-64 age group, according to California Competes – who contract education could help to upskill and put into good-paying middle-skill jobs, Davidson says. It’s those Californians who have no college degree; who have a high school diploma but no college degree; or who have some college credits but no degree and are not currently enrolled in school.

It’s a large pool of workers, Davidson says, who can contribute to a thriving economy with additional funding for not-for-credit training that results in upskilling and industry certifications that give employees instant skills they can apply on the job. Employees can continue their education by enrolling in an academic program at their local community college. With the contract education units being a part of the community college system, that provides a bridge and future pathway to higher education for those who seek it.

The topic of skills training hits home for Davidson, who was part of that 20-million demographic at one point in his life, having had to work two jobs to put himself through college after his father died. He had to drop out at one point to help put food on the table but found his way back and was able to eventually earn an associate degree, as well as bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

While many of the employee-training programs administered by community colleges focus on current employees, some programs hire new employees with the aim of training them for the job. That could help unemployed workers in California get a foot in the door as the state works to recover and work their way up with continual upskilling over time, Davidson said.

“This rapid response gives people skills and puts food on the table and promotes a higher wage,” he said.

In addition to Davidson and Rafferty, other co-authors of the “Expanding Capacity to Meet California’s One Million ‘Middle-Skilled’ Workforce Challenge by 2025” report are Deanna Krehbiel, director Economic Development & Corporate Training for the San Bernardino Community College District; Audrey Taylor, president and CEO of Chabin Concepts; and Linda Zorn, executive director, Economic and Workforce Development for the Butte-Glenn Community College District.