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Transcript- Episode 93: Unpacking the Employer Engagement Process Across Community Colleges Episode 93

May 9, 2023

00:00:00 Leslie

I would be really interested in knowing what other colleges have to say, and I think that as we think about our role as conveners in the region through the LARC, I think that it's appropriate that we have that conversation in that space as well to get that assessment of the landscape for other colleges.


00:00:17 Leslie

Like what are they doing? What CRMs are they using? Are there recommendations? What are best practices? And then developing a bigger model that is reflective of the input of all the different colleges, then we can push it, then we can replicate it, then we can train for it, then we can create trainings around that.


00:00:39 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.


00:00:52 Christina

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?


00:01:04 Salvatrice

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


00:01:12 Christina

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


00:01:16 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.


00:01:30 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.


00:01:50 Christina

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


00:01:58 Salvatrice

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


00:02:01 Salvatrice

Welcome back, this is Salvatrice your host, and I'm joined today by my friend and colleague in our division, Ms. Leslie Thompson, who is our Director of Operations. Leslie, welcome to the show again.


00:02:16 Leslie

Thank you, good to be here. How are you?


00:02:19 Salvatrice

Very good, this is now episode two of our solos, and I'm really digging the direction that we're going here, and having these candid conversations, you and I, that really share with our listeners what goes on in our brains and some of the things that we're exposed to and dealing with, and how we kind of come up with some solutions to the madness. So, I'm really liking it, I hope you're excited about it. I'm excited about today's topic.


00:02:44 Leslie

I think so. Today's topic is good. I think we did apprenticeships last time and this time we're doing employer engagement, and that's a broad subject. We could talk about that for hours, but we don't have hours, so ...


00:02:53 Salvatrice

We certainly don't.


00:02:54 Leslie

Maybe we should focus on the topic again.


00:02:56 Salvatrice

Yeah, so where do we start? Like where do we start with such a large topic of employer engagement that has so many moving parts?


00:03:03 Leslie

The first thing I always do is, what is employer engagement? And I think there's two things that come to mind when you think of that name. Either people think about how as an employer you engage your employees through various tactics and practices. Like that's the first thing that comes to mind when the average person, I think probably thinks about employer engagement.


00:03:19 Leslie

But in our world, it refers to something else. It refers to the process of building and maintaining relationships with various stakeholders. And so, it involves employers, it involves institutes of higher education, it involves agencies and things like that. Maybe we start with that kind of understanding of what we talk about, what we mean by employer engagement when we talk about employer engagement.


00:03:39 Salvatrice

Great, when we talk about the employer engagement, for me, I hear you say that, and then I immediately think my goodness, it's so fragmented. The way in which we do that varies so much between - I mean, even if we took a look at the community college landscape, it's very different from one college to the next for a number of different reasons.


00:04:01 Salvatrice

And so, it only makes sense that our employer is like, "Whoa, how do I do this? How do I do this in the most impactful way? And also, what could I possibly leverage from a community college?" Let's start there.


00:04:14 Salvatrice

And so, I mean, we've worked on a model, we've been tinkering with a local employer engagement model for a long time, and maybe, merits kind of talking through that and why it's worked for us and why our model can then be shared across multiple community colleges for the sole purpose of keeping things consistent and having the continuity of communications between a community college and an employer.


00:04:44 Leslie

I think that that's a good strategy. I think that the employer engagement strategies in general involve different components and why it seems fragment or why it may be fragmented is because there's so many different nuanced pieces to it, and it's happening at different colleges, and it involves people first and foremost.


00:04:59 Leslie

And because it involves people, then you're going to have personal approaches. It's about building and maintaining relationships, there are certain soft skills involved in that, that require a certain honing. You're going to have as many different approaches to that work as you are going to have people doing it.


00:05:16 Leslie

And if you have 19 community colleges, we'll just talk about our regional alone. If you have 19 community colleges, you have maybe at minimum, 19 points of contact for that work. But probably more at each campus, there's different areas. I know for us, for example, we have different points of contact for employer engagement.


00:05:33 Leslie

You and I do employer engagement, our job developers do employer engagement, our Freeman Center people do employer engagement to an extent when they're putting on career fairs. Even some faculty do employer engagement when they're trying to have industry relationships. So, there's a lot of different people that connect with employers.


00:05:49 Leslie

So, I think it's important to, yes, identify a model, but also, really dig down into the different pieces and what it all means. There's marketing involved, there's soft skills that you need to train for, and then there's best practices and how you go about it and when to know when you're going too far or when you're not doing enough, or a realistic expectation of how long it takes to build a relationship with an employer. Are we talking about that too, right?


00:06:14 Salvatrice



00:06:14 Leslie

So, there's a lot of things. So, when you say it's fragment, I'm like, "Yeah, but kind of necessarily so," because it's different people doing it, and different people have different approaches. So, I guess the question is can we create, can it be replicated? Can we create one model to go by, or can that work? I think that's an interesting concept.


00:06:32 Salvatrice

And just thinking about other additional variables on the structure of that college or ... at the end of the day, you mean you hit the nail right on the head. We're in the people business. Like employer engagement is all about people and relationship building. It relies so heavily on the college's ability to have someone with that skillset to build those relationships, the soft skills that you were talking about.


00:06:55 Salvatrice

So, it makes me wonder, going back to your last comment, can our model be replicated? Well, I would even push it a step further, can our model not only be replicated but customized based on the talent assets and other assets that that college has?


00:07:11 Leslie

That's an interesting point, and something you said earlier. You said the value of community college students to employers, like that's a marketing piece. Like selling the pipeline, we talk about that, selling the pipeline, that's a marketing piece. But there also has to be value to the colleges.


00:07:25 Leslie

So, the people that do this work know that you need to have employer involvement, and they're doing employer engagement. Maybe they're not even calling it employer engagement. Are there dedicated employer engagement teams on these campuses? Maybe not.


00:07:38 Leslie

So, if the colleges aren't seeing the value in the work or defining, identifying, and devoting resources to the work, then doesn't matter how good the model is if no one's there to buy it, or no one's there to buy it rather.


00:07:49 Leslie

So, we want to sell the value to employers, but we also need to sell the value of employer engagement as a product to the colleges and their staff. Because people are doing it, they're doing it. But I go back to this idea that we might be suggesting it's fragmented. I'm not saying that in a bad way, I'm saying maybe necessarily so because of the way it is.


00:08:11 Salvatrice

So, I feel like you just said, we need to even go back even further and fundamentally develop the value proposition, of why this is so important to us as a system and then as a system, most importantly, to a local community college, we forget.


00:08:29 Leslie

Yeah, so certain areas of the college have defined efforts, so you have transfer and outreach. They know what they're doing and they know why they're doing it, and they're people that work in those departments and they do that work and there's for a reason.


00:08:40 Leslie

Think about like your advancements or your foundations or those areas. They're reaching out with the explicit purpose of raising money and creating those funds or whatever. So, they know why they're reaching out, they know what they're doing, they have plans and they do it. I'm guessing it's the same thing, for other areas doing employer engagement in different ways.


00:08:59 Leslie

But is there a dedicated place for that? No, I think that you and I would argue that that place should live with an economic and workforce development or functional equivalent programs at other colleges. It's EWD for us, and so, we would want that to live under EWD, we'd probably seat it in the Freeman Center for Career and Outreach, that would make sense in our mind I guess for the structure.


00:09:20 Leslie

But other colleges may not have that. First of all, other colleges don't have their career services under economic and workforce development, a lot of them are under student services. So, again, I go back to this idea of replicating a model. We need to know what exists first and if there's a place for that model to live. And if not, then I think we start there.


00:09:39 Salvatrice

You know what this kind of makes me think about what if we were to do a case study using our work as a study point, and so that we can address all these things, so that other colleges instead of saying, "Well look, this model works for us, so therefore, by default should work for you because we all have access to the same funding, yada, yada, yada," right?


00:09:58 Leslie

Yeah, I'm interested in what other people are doing too. How are other people doing it? What can we learn?


00:10:02 Salvatrice

That's right.


00:10:03 Leslie

We don't know what we don't know, we say that all the time. They may be doing great stuff.


00:10:08 Salvatrice

How do we get to know what - first of all, how do we share it? But then even more importantly, how do we get to know what other people are doing or what our colleagues across other colleges are doing that's really working for them.


00:10:21 Salvatrice

I mean, we like our model, do we have iterations of our model? Of course, and we've been iterating our model for some time because to your point earlier, people change, talent changes, the landscape of our economy changes, et cetera, et cetera, but there's got to be others doing the same work.


00:10:35 Salvatrice

So, if we were to maybe develop a study of some sort, I don't even know what it would be called - a study of some sort and how it's not only working for us, but the challenges that we've had to face, that might open up dialogue or other colleges to say, "You know what, I face those same things too, and I appreciate that approach. Or here's what I've done to work through that barrier," I don't know.


00:10:59 Leslie

I do like the idea of ... I don't want to say surveying, but just assessing the landscape, not just here, but at all community colleges, all 19, at the regional level, I think there's value in that. We've talked before about centralizing information and LARC being the hub for employer engagement and things like this, so we've had those conversations.


00:11:18 Leslie

I would be interested in knowing what the existing landscape looks like so that we know what we're speaking to. Particularly as it relates to PCC's model and how we want to kind of build something that can be either replicated and influenced by everybody else's input, I think that would be valuable.


00:11:36 Salvatrice

Well, where do we go from here? I mean, we have something that is of interest to us and clearly, we've seen some great results, but there's so much room for more growth.


00:11:47 Leslie

There's room for growth, but even here, even with our model, speaking to iterations, I mean I'm going to keep us honest. We've had iterations, but currently, we're not even appropriately staffed to do employer engagement. We have one job developer that works in non-credit. And we are going to be recruiting for another job developer or a functionally equivalent position in the near future, I'm saying that out loud.


00:12:13 Salvatrice

Put that out in the universe-


00:12:14 Leslie

Isn't that correct, Salvatrice?


00:12:16 Salvatrice

That is correct, yes it is.


00:12:18 Leslie

So, while we have a model we think works, let's also be honest that even at home, it's not perfect.


00:12:22 Salvatrice

Of course not.


00:12:23 Leslie

Lots of people have their hands in this work, like I said earlier. So, it has to be the case at other colleges. So, I would be really interested in knowing what other colleges have to say. And I think that as we think about our role as conveners in the region through the LARC, I think that it's appropriate that we have that conversation in that space as well, to get that assessment of the landscape for other colleges.


00:12:48 Leslie

Like what are they doing? What CRMs are they using? Are there recommendations? What are best practices? And then developing a bigger model that is reflective of the input of all the different colleges, then we can push it, then we can replicate it, then we can train for it, then we can create trainings around that or create something. We could do marketing around the value on both sides of it if that needs to happen, I feel like those are good next steps.


00:13:16 Salvatrice

Do they become almost like the coalition of the willing, right?


00:13:19 Leslie

And they will because everybody's doing employer engagement, whether they call it or not. They'll be like, "Yeah, I need help with that, let's talk about it, or here's what we use." For all we know, there could be this really great system out there that we don't even know about.


00:13:32 Leslie

Maybe they're partnering with their foundations and they're keeping their contacts, because sometimes those contacts are similar. You may have alumni who are working at these organizations and those are your best point of contact for all needs related to the college.


00:13:45 Leslie

They're bringing in employers for job fairs, they're providing mentorships, they're providing internships, they're providing alumni support in different ways financially, otherwise. So, they may be partnering with foundations to utilize their systems or they may have a different system yet, there could be something really great.


00:14:03 Leslie

We have college central network here at PCC that we use and we have access to employers through there, and that can serve as a CRM, but is that the best? Don't know, haven't seen them all.


00:14:13 Salvatrice

And I wonder if during this coalition of the willing, if we put together a group that's saying, "Hey, we really want to solve this problem, here's where our mind's at." Wondering if we could also leverage that report that just came out from the Chancellor's Office, if you recall, we were interviewed for, if memory serves me right, it's called the California Student Employment Outcomes Landscape Analysis.


00:14:35 Salvatrice

Where the Chancellor's Office had a third party come in and had great questions for us. And I can only imagine those same questions were replicated across other colleges at our sister colleges. Maybe leveraging some of those key findings.


00:14:49 Leslie

Yeah, I think it's a great idea.


00:14:50 Salvatrice

And figuring out how do we do it.


00:14:52 Leslie

Right, that was what happens. We do a lot of good research or we have a lot of good conversations but then what? I mean, there's so much good stuff going on, everybody's doing so much good work. We're all so busy all the time, we have a heck of a time scheduling meetings because we're always in meetings. But then what? I think then what is the million dollar question: then what? What do we do with all this stuff that we do?


00:15:14 Salvatrice

I don't really know but it sounds like to me - I mean, I don't know right this minute, like we had some really good ...


00:15:18 Leslie

No I need an answer, Salvatrice, that's why I'm asking.


00:15:21 Salvatrice

My answer to you is going to be those are wonderful recommendations and I will take them to an account ... a standard go-to.


00:15:28 Leslie

Thank you.


00:15:28 Salvatrice

But I think it just merits us doing just that, almost putting out a call to action. Like we're really curious about solving this problem and who within our consortium would want to explore this with us and leverage existing key findings to figure out yes, it's fragmented but it's fragmented because maybe that's intentional.


00:15:50 Leslie

It needs to be fragmented.


00:15:51 Salvatrice

That's why it looks fragmented, but really, the output and the outcomes are being done. They're just being done in a different way.


00:15:59 Leslie

At minimum, you have 19 individuals, and anytime you get 19 different people, you're going to have 19 different approaches, and maybe even 19 different standards for success, or maybe five different standards for success. I mean, do we even agree to what a good number of employer engagement outreach effort - do we have metrics like what's the benchmark?


00:16:17 Leslie

You know what I mean? It could vary by campus. Maybe your idea of excellence isn't the person down the street's idea of excellence, that matters. And I think that we're in a unique position here at PCC because we have the LARC under EWD as conveners for the 19 community colleges.


00:16:36 Leslie

So, we're in a unique position to raise the question, to pose the question to the group and to actually do something with the responses. I think it's cool that we're having the conversation because we can actually do something.


00:16:50 Salvatrice

And I'm going to add just one thing because we can go on forever, but I want to close by also planting the seed around faculty's role in employer engagement, because they are instrumental and ambassadors to the work.


00:17:03 Salvatrice

And the reason why I bring that up is not only because we've experienced it - we've experienced such beautiful things that has happened with our faculty engaging with our employers because they're personal - again, they go back to personal relationships.


00:17:14 Salvatrice

But the perception of private public partnerships, the faculty's perspective, and perception around private public partnerships near and dear to me. I mean, I'm studying it now because of my dissertation and I'm doing the research and so that's why it just comes up to me, it feels fresh. But they play an instrumental role outside of the staff that's there to support the work as well.


00:17:41 Salvatrice

So, I think maybe at a later time, maybe we just unpack that a little bit too because that's a variable that's instrumental to this work.


00:17:49 Leslie

Yeah, I know the importance of faculty involvement with employers, just maintaining contact with industries. It can't be underscored enough because it's for their own programming too, it's for their own benefits. But there's also courses which require field work.


00:18:00 Leslie

There's a lot of different reasons why faculty would need to stay engaged with industry and employers. And they have those relationships, they have existing relationships. A lot of them, particularly in our CT programs, may have spent time in those fields, worked in those industries, or have close relationships there. So, they're doing it too, it's important, you're right.


00:18:20 Salvatrice

And they're doing a great job at it too. We've seen some really great outcomes in that, and the relationships that they've built on their own.


00:18:26 Leslie

But do they consider that employer engagement?


00:18:28 Salvatrice

See, that's a good question.


00:18:29 Leslie

If we put out a call to action for employer engagement, would they even open the email? You know what I mean? Because you don't realize you're doing it, that's my point. It's fragmented because it has to be because so many different people are doing it.


00:18:39 Leslie

We have to start by what is it, and why is it important and why are we all doing it? I'm not saying people don't know what they're doing, I'm saying that you just may not call it that.


00:18:48 Salvatrice

Well, it sounds like we are getting closer to unpacking this. I feel like we didn't even really unpack too much and we did, and we just brought to light what we're experiencing. But there's so much room for us to explore solutions and I really look forward to either future dialogues and future-like popcorn brain sessions around it.


00:19:09 Leslie

I mean, I feel like it's a good topic to bring up and we've posed the question like what is it? What are we doing with it? And there is a call to action. I think that we should explore further how we're going to take this work to the next level within the region, and what model's going to be put forth. Is it ours? Is it a new and improved? Is it better? Is someone else doing it better? I want to know.


00:19:28 Salvatrice

Yeah, me too. Well, on that note, let's close by saying more to come and thank you. I really, really appreciate this and we'll see what comes up from our listeners too.


00:19:39 Salvatrice

I bet that there are listeners listening in saying, "Wait a minute, this really works for us and here's how I've seen it done." So, I'd be interested in anyone listening, please shoot us an email because we're certainly willing to learn.


00:19:52 Leslie

There are a lot of people that have been doing this work for a really long time.


00:19:54 Salvatrice

That's right.


00:19:55 Leslie

So, we have a lot of experts that can weigh in and I'm interested in hearing from them personally, so I think that's great.


00:20:01 Salvatrice

Alright, well, thanks, Leslie.


00:20:03 Leslie

Alright cool.


00:20:03 Salvatrice

Until next time.


00:20:04 Leslie



00:20:04 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. 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.


00:20:24 Salvatrice

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.