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Transcript- Episode 111: Unveiling the True Voice of the Future Workforce Episode 111

Jan 16, 2024


00:00:00 Leslie

How do we have different conversations going forward? How do we start changing the conversation a bit? How do we start digging a little deeper? How do we start changing the language we use or approach we take?


00:00:10 Leslie

I think one way that we can do it is to create opportunities for dialogue in more intimate settings rather than one big annual event. Maybe we do smaller events. Maybe we'd invite more people to the podcast, bigger conversations here.


00:00:26 Christina

The workforce landscape is rapidly changing and educators and their institutions need to keep up. Preparing students before they enter the workforce to make our communities and businesses stronger is at the core of getting an education. But we need to understand how to change and adjust so that we can begin to project where things are headed before we even get there. So, how do we begin to predict the future?


00:00:51 Salvatrice

Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City College and host of this podcast.


00:01:00 Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer and co-host of this podcast.


00:01:03 Salvatrice

And we are starting the conversation about the future of work. We'll explore topics like how education can partner with industry, how to be more equitable, and how to attain one of our highest goals, more internships and PCC students in the workforce.


00:01:17 Salvatrice

We at Pasadena City College want to lead the charge in closing the gap between what our students are learning and what the demands of the workforce will be once they enter. This is a conversation that impacts all of us, you the employers, the policymakers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.


00:01:37 Christina

We believe change happens when we work together and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm Christina Barsi.


00:01:45 Salvatrice

And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.


00:01:48 Salvatrice

Welcome back, this is Dr. Salvatrice Cummo, your host, and I'm joined today by my friend and colleague here at EWD, Ms. Leslie Thompson. Leslie, how are you?


00:02:00 Leslie

I'm great. How are you today?


00:02:02 Salvatrice

Very good, very good. I just want to remind our listener that Leslie spearheads our operations here at EWD. She's a director of operations and really oversees a lot of the newer initiatives and newer build-outs of verticals under economic and workforce development, and sees that we are truly in front of some of the emerging trends and conversations and all that good stuff.


00:02:27 Salvatrice

So, with that, Leslie, this is our first episode for 2024. We learned a lot in 2023, and I thought that now would be a really good time for us to do a quick mini-reflection and really set the tone for the rest of the year and what we anticipate that to look like.


00:02:46 Leslie

That sounds great, and I can't believe it's 2024 already. We did learn a lot of things last year, wrapping up with our big event in October, the Future of Work Conference, and we had some good learning there and some good opportunities to reflect there. And I think now's a good time for us to kind of explore what's next for us with the Future of Work Initiative.


00:03:05 Salvatrice

That's right. So, I want to ask you first, because I have my response, but I'm going to ask you based on the activities, the conversations, the programming that we implemented, some of the newer programs that we are overseeing, like the California Apprenticeship Initiatives and those funds and management of programs, what was kind of an overarching recap theme for you for 2023?


00:03:32 Leslie

For me, what I noticed a lot of is either we're jumping in just in time or we're trying to catch up, or in those rare instances when we're ahead of the curve, those are the things that I always try to look for.


00:03:43 Leslie

With the California Apprenticeship Initiative, I feel like we're just in time, I feel like everyone's starting to talk about apprenticeships. It's nothing new, but everyone's talking about apprenticeships and the need to increase those efforts across the state. The chancellor's office is making it a priority with these planning grants.


00:03:59 Leslie

And then there's going to be the implementation grants, which we're going to go for. PCC, got five of those grants. And what we're looking to EWD to do this year is to create an apprenticeship hub. We don't do the programming. We're not doing the programming, that falls under instruction. And we have some really great partners across campus for that work.


00:04:16 Leslie

But in terms of managing these grant funds and overseeing the administrative tasks related to implementation and all the things, just kind of clearing a path for faculty to do what they need to do to create these programs, that's what this apprenticeship hub will basically be about. So, I'm really excited about that. And I think that my big takeaway from last year was it's time and I'm excited about it.


00:04:39 Salvatrice

So, for me, when I look at the annual report that we put out, and I look at the successes, I do want to toot our own horn. We did really great things and we measure, we measure everything that we do, which is important. It's important for a number of reasons. It's important for accountability purposes for ourselves, it's important to demonstrate the work, et cetera.


00:05:04 Salvatrice

But what it shared with me specifically, not only through the report, through our programming and some of the verticals, is that we pay a high concentration on the preparation and the development of the workforce. So, we spent a lot of time there.


00:05:22 Salvatrice

The last few years has been around making sure that we are connected with the industry. So, the industry influences our program and curriculum. We pay high concentration on career development, career exploration, career preparedness, workforce readiness for the incoming workforce, we spend a lot of time there.


00:05:43 Salvatrice

We spend a lot of time, I think on the talent side and the development of the talent side, which is important, it's important work. But we didn't spend ... and not because we didn't want to but simply because that's the need, that has been the need thus far.


00:06:00 Salvatrice

But I feel like now is a time for us to flip that a little bit and focus our attention on just as we prepare the new workforce going into the workforce. We prepare the new talent going into the workforce, but we start preparing the workplace for the new talent.


00:06:20 Salvatrice

And how are organizations and employers, companies, et cetera, however you want to say it, how are they preparing themselves for this next generation of workforce? And how are they playing a role in the further development of their existing workforce?


00:06:39 Salvatrice

I think that there's a moment for us to delve deep into that for a number of different reasons that we talked about before. About employee benefits, employee rates, the environments that they work in, you and I spoke not too long ago about our unemployment rates are really, really low right now, it's a good thing. But we're also hearing, "We can't fill jobs." We're hearing those two things, well, why?


00:07:08 Leslie

I think there's a number of factors for that. But one of the other things that we hear aside from we can't fill it, is that well, people don't want to work. Well, they don't want to work your hours. They don't want to work in the office every week. They don't want to work for your pay. They don't want to sacrifice their personal lives anymore for just any job.


00:07:27 Leslie

And so, when we talk about preparing the workplace, I think we're on the right track when we think about kind of flipping some of our attention to, obviously we're going to pay attention and devote resources to student development. Because again, a reminder, EWD exists at the Pasadena City College campus, we serve students first and foremost. Developing those students is our job, right?


00:07:51 Salvatrice

That's right.


00:07:52 Leslie

But when we expand our scope to employers, industry, workplace, whatever you want to call it, primarily in the past it's been about relationship building, to get opportunities for students, to develop partnerships for all sorts of endeavors and initiatives, and we still need to continue doing that.


00:08:10 Leslie

But if we switch it to pay some attention to workplace, then we have to create opportunities to address those gaps in ways that frame it from the perspective of the worker, the person, the talent that we call. Why aren't they applying? Why aren't they staying? What are those issues that are going on? Because we are trying to prepare students again for the workforce of tomorrow.


00:08:34 Leslie

Well, I mean, the workforce of today has changed quite a bit and we need to change too. The whole world has changed. And we keep hearing people talk about post-pandemic, we all got PTSD from the pandemic. But it's true, there's been a lot of changes in the world. Certainly, reports that were run pre-pandemic, conversations that were had pre-pandemic, they're almost, I don't want to say irrelevant but they're absolutely dated.


00:09:02 Leslie

What we experienced in that period of time was historical in terms of the upset it caused, the shifts, the changes in everything related to working and living because people were taken off the job, you were at home. Once you learned that you could do what you do and you didn't have to put on shoes, forget it. Game changer, massive game changer.


00:09:24 Leslie

I can do this in my jammies, I'm doing it in my jammies. That's a big deal. And that shifted a lot of people's minds. And I think that that's something we need to create space to discuss and address when we're vetting for opportunities.


00:09:38 Leslie

It's not just, I mean, working conditions in the sense that we obviously we're not interested in partnering with anybody who has substandard working conditions or in violation of Cal/OSHA or anything like that. But beyond that, what are the real benefits of working for your company?


00:09:54 Leslie

This work-life balance we hear about now, we've always heard about it, but it's not until recently that people are, they mean it can, they work from home. What kind of compensation are you offering? And that's why people aren't flocking to some of these jobs. So, I think it's a good way to turn to kind of start creating spaces to have those conversations with employers and with actual employees too.


00:10:17 Salvatrice

That's right. I think that's the other part of it too, is we've listened to the voices of industry to help us in program formation and implementation. We've listened to the voices of our students and what they need in preparations to the workforce. But you hit on something, we haven't quite heard the voice of the existing employees, the existing workforce out there. I think there's ways for us to explore that.


00:10:44 Leslie

And we can get into that in a minute. The initiatives we're proposing for the new year in terms of creating opportunities for conversation, addressing things that are important to employees, obviously, like health and wellness, being a top priority for everyone.


00:11:00 Leslie

And again, to go back to this kind of life altering moment in history for us, people were dying, a lot of people were dying. And that puts a lot of things into perspective for people. They're like , if this thing can happen and wipe out hundreds of people, in our lifetime, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. This was major and we all know somebody who didn't survive it maybe. A lot of us know somebody that didn't survive it. A lot of us know more than one person that didn't survive it.


00:11:29 Leslie

Even if it's peripherally, they're in our network somehow. So, almost nobody got away unscathed. That shifts things. Now all of a sudden my health is more important. Now all of a sudden, I'm not going to kill myself for the job. We're of the generation where you leave it all on the field.


00:11:43 Leslie

We go out, we play full out, we leave it all on the field, we call in when we're, call in dead, but not anymore. People aren't doing that anymore. Now they're like, "No, I'm not. I'm not. I got to have a little left for me." I think that's important


00:11:55 Salvatrice

For sure. And I will also suspect that what we'll hear in talking with the existing workforce and really sharing their perspective and light on many different variables surrounding the workplace and the industry and the needs is this personal alignment. This alignment with what they do with who they are.


00:12:16 Salvatrice

We have been conditioned and trained that what we do is not exactly who we are. I've said it a thousand times, well, this is what I do and I'm really great at it, but it's not exactly who I am. But the more I say that, the more it becomes a little blurred for me because I do have a personal interest in this work. I do put my heart and soul in the work.


00:12:40 Salvatrice

And so, as much as we've been conditioned to say, this is what you do, it's not who you are. I think the incoming, as well as the existing workforce is saying no more. There needs to be a synergy between what we do and who we are and the workplace is going to create that nexus for us. Just to underscore what you said, it's like, well, there's possibilities, there's options. And so, why would I choose one over the other? Well, I'll choose one over the other because it aligns with me personally.


00:13:16 Leslie

You can't overstate the importance of values alignment. I mean, we have that conversation here all the time. Why does this matter? Why does it matter? If it's just about a paycheck, you're not going to give it your all, you're not. You are going to do the bare minimum, do the job, get paid.


00:13:29 Leslie

There has to be a values alignment, particularly because there are some sacrifices we make, we have to make them. I think it's great to have this kind of wishlist for what our ideal job or career is going to look like and we're going to get all these things from it.


00:13:42 Leslie

But the reality is, working full-time at this level requires a personal sacrifice and a commitment at some level, at some point to some degree. So, you have to make sure that what you're making that sacrifice for aligns with your personal values. Yes, you want it to be like, what I am not what I do. But that's the first thing when you meet somebody, "What do you do? Not who are you, what do you do?"


00:14:08 Salvatrice

You know what I also want to explore more of, it came up in a conversation, in a past episode conversation I had with Dennis Rodriguez from Black and Veatch corporation, he mentioned that every employee is an owner, has a stake in the business.


00:14:26 Salvatrice

And I thought to myself, well every employee is part owner of this hundred-year-old organization. And he underscored the commitment that the employees have to the company because it aligns with their passion and what they like and what they want to do, but they also have an investment in it.


00:14:50 Salvatrice

And so, there's the level of care, there's just a different level of interest in the direction of the company and the vitality and the health of the company along with the health and vitality of the employees. And so, I wonder in the next year, if we create platforms in which we start to uncover a few things.


00:15:11 Salvatrice

We uncover or we discover, I should say, we discover the voice of the existing workforce. And talk about variables that are affecting either their growth or their satisfaction or their excitement about the work that they do and how they're doing that integration of what they do and who they are.


00:15:30 Salvatrice

But also really discovering different models, different business models that companies adopted or shifted to or evolved to because of the mind shift of the workforce. And so, for all the reasons that you just mentioned about the pandemic allowing us to reexamine how we conduct business, those are two really big things, massive things Leslie, right?


00:15:59 Leslie

I'm going to get right on those.


00:16:01 Salvatrice

For sure. What would be the best way you think, let's explore what is possible for us to do some more discovery around that? Look, we talked about this a couple of episodes ago or a few episodes ago where we said it's kind of like this teeter-totter with the relationship with the employers because employers are an asset to this work.


00:16:22 Salvatrice

They are instrumental in the development of the new workforce, but we also have to be really honest about how they show up. And all the things that we just talked about in the workplace. How do we do that effectively, you think? What would be the best approach?


00:16:39 Leslie

Well, I think to revisit a conversation we had recently about opportunities for discussion, the conference is great. The one we just had on ... it was our fifth annual conference and it was great. And we had great speakers and we had great panels and we had a lot of rigorous discussion. But it's once a year, that was our signature event.


00:17:00 Leslie

So, the first five years of EWD here at PCC, we were focused on building this Future of Work Initiative and it culminated every year in an annual signature event, that was our big thing. And then we have obviously the podcast, we have the Pulse Newsletter, we have all these channels for communication and we spent time establishing PCC EWD as thought leaders in the space.


00:17:26 Leslie

And now we're talking about how do we have different conversations going forward? How do we start changing the conversation a bit? How do we start digging a little deeper? How do we start changing the language we use or changing the approach we take?


00:17:38 Leslie

So, I think one way that we can do it is to create opportunities for dialogue in more intimate settings rather than one big annual event. Maybe we do smaller events, maybe we invite more people to the podcast, bigger conversations here. Involving more voices here.


00:17:55 Leslie

Lots of ways that we can explore how we can kind of capture those conversations in person. They don't even all have to be in person because what do we learning? People like virtual stuff. They like to not meet in person. I don't know what to tell you but it is what it is .


00:18:07 Leslie

Again, once you learn that you don't have to sit in a room full of people, why would you want to or travel or waste your gas. I mean, game changer. So, there's lots of opportunities we could create.


00:18:19 Salvatrice

I think there's different modalities. There's different modalities to having these conversations as well as coming up with some significant solutions to the work. The last few years we've had, to your point, because of the conference, we've had a ton of discoveries and partnerships that we built that helped us solve some of the very important issues and opportunities here. Not only within our division, but at the college and stellar partners, stellar, stellar partners.


00:18:50 Salvatrice

Well, how do we amplify that with our two focuses for the year while expanding our reach and being accessible? And there's other platforms. I think it'd be really kind of neat to your point for 2024 for us to test a different modality to the dialogues that we create through the Future of Work conference as part of the massive initiative. The conference is one element, as you mentioned, is one element of the initiative itself.


00:19:23 Salvatrice

What are we trying to solve here? We're trying to solve reach, we're trying to solve accessibility. And then we're also trying to create safe spaces, especially if we're going to really be amplifying the voice of the existing workforce and the voice of the workplace, safe spaces to be honest and transparent so that we can be not only better partners to industry, but also be a solution for them in other ways, in other capacities that we may not have thought of. I think it's good. I think it's a good start. What do you think?


00:19:58 Leslie

I think it's a great start as we move through this semester and we move through implementing on our strategic plan for EWD, we can identify those opportunities. And I think that the key to creating safe space is kind of this intellectual intimacy. We create small opportunities where people can talk and feel safe and feel heard and it's just conversation.


00:20:21 Leslie

And that's what's good about the podcast. That's what's good about all the one-on-one conversations we have out in the world, creating smaller opportunities. And I hate to use the term industry round tables, we did that initially. And we do still do that stuff, but industry roundtable to me just sounds, it doesn't sound like fun. It doesn't.


00:20:42 Leslie

If you want to get together and maybe we think of a different term, but essentially where we gather a small group of people and have meaningful dialogue and have facilitated discussions around important topics, then we don't have to wait to once a year conference to tackle large theme concepts and hope that as many people show up as possible or people will watch the video or tune in on LinkedIn, all these opportunities to engage with the conference if you don't come in person. I would like to see us create those opportunities on a smaller scale, but more frequently.


00:21:15 Salvatrice

I think they would create more impact. Because what do our results say, our surveys say after each conference? We do get a lot of accolades, but we also get, we need more, we just need more.


00:21:28 Leslie

Yeah. I think there's definitely a value. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive, I'm going to say. And also, that they find value in the content, they learn something, obviously there's a need for it because we get attendees. And we do get people tuning in and we do get feedback and we do get participants.


00:21:46 Leslie

But from the time we start planning the conference early in the year to when we actually deliver on the conference in October, November, this year was October in the past, it's been in November. By the time we get to that, our agenda, our direction, our purpose has had iterations and has evolved so much based on availability of speakers and panelists, based on emerging trends and needs.


00:22:08 Leslie

What that tells me is that there's a need to have these conversations more frequently, pivot in the moment and keep having up-to-date conversations instead of spinning our wheels throughout the year trying to keep up with all the things that are going on.


00:22:21 Leslie

We always start with this great, we're going to talk about this this year. And very rarely does what we start with this big idea that we have end up what we actually deliver on for lots of variables. There's lots of variables, lots of reasons. So, I think it would be kind of cool just to be able to have these big ideas and start having conversations as we go.


00:22:44 Salvatrice

I think so too. I think so too. And I think the only way to do it is just to try it and see what happens.


00:22:48 Leslie

Yeah, I agree.


00:22:49 Salvatrice

And see what happens. These gatherings I think solve a huge need of, there's a connecting piece, but there's also the piece of we don't know what we don't know unless we ask questions. So, what ends up happening, what always happens in any conversation that we have with either industry or students or our colleagues is it's like, "Oh, well you just shed light on something that I hadn't quite thought about. Let's do more. Let's figure it out."


00:23:21 Salvatrice

And so, that's when this coalition of the willing, the wanting of workforce comes into play and it's like, okay, well great, now we have another interested individual who wants to do this work with us. It makes for more impact. And I think in our work , and I think that you're right.


00:23:39 Salvatrice

I think this smaller boutique conversations, smaller in that size as far as the size and modalities. So, we're not doing these huge conferences, but rather to your point, more frequent and more accessible. So, maybe figuring out a platform that's going to help us with that. So, more to come, I'm sure. But I'm really looking forward to this year and seeing what transpires from some of these boutique conversations.


00:24:05 Leslie

I think it's important. I think it's safe to say that the Future of Work Initiative is evolving. We're not just concerned with the future of work, we're concerned with what's happening right now too. And in order to remain relevant and kind of in touch and true to our original goal of being thought leaders in that space, we have to acknowledge that we need to pivot more quickly, we need to be more responsive.


00:24:26 Leslie

We need to address the topics that whatever those may be, we need to reevaluate the language we use. And we've talked in the past about it being, the language that we use in this work is maybe problematic. The emphasis on people not calling people people, but calling them talent or pipeline or workforce or anything but people.


00:24:47 Leslie

That might be problematic depending on how you look at it. If that's something you're interested in exploring, I'm interested in exploring that. But we've had the conversation already, but that's where my values align with the work I do. I don't know about you, you tell me.


00:25:00 Salvatrice

For sure. Absolutely. And I think that's a great way to kind of sunset this conversation is that we are in a beautiful position to explore more and discover more. And it's going to require us to pivot our approach. And you're right, we can't just talk about future, we have to talk about now and we have to adjust now so that we can best prepare for future. So, Leslie, thank you very much. We've got a lot of work ahead of us.


00:25:27 Leslie

Every year it's the same thing. It's like we got a lot of work to do and we do constantly have a lot of work. We get a lot of stuff done. It doesn't always end up being what we expect it to be. And this conversation it's just a conversation.


00:25:37 Leslie

What we actually end up delivering might be different than what we talk about here today because it's going to change as we go. I think it's important to know that there are changes on the horizon and stay tuned for that.


00:25:47 Leslie

And also, call to action for the listener. We like to hear feedback, we like to hear from folks. So, if you have an idea for a topic or something you'd like to see explored in a different way, either on the podcast or if you'd like to see it written about in the newsletter or you'd like a convening related to a particular topic or there's somebody you think we should be talking to, reach out. Let us know, we'd love to hear about it.


00:26:12 Salvatrice

Well, thank you Leslie, thank you so much. I'll catch you on the other side of this podcast.


00:26:17 Leslie

Thank you.


00:26:20 Salvatrice

Thank you for listening to The Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you're subscribed on your favorite listening platform so you can easily get new episodes every Tuesday.


00:26:30 Salvatrice

You can reach out to us by clicking on the website link below in the show notes to collaborate, partner, or just chat about all things future of work, we'd love to connect with you. All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College, wish you safety and wellness.