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Transcript: 2022 LISTENER FAVORITE- Why Technical Education & Post Secondary Career Programs Will Change The Future Of Work With Jennifer Zeisler Senior Program Director Of Career Readiness At ECMC Foundation

Dec 20, 2022

00:00:00 Jennifer

Ivy Tech, a community college system in Indiana, they developed this approach where they label a course to say that a student can take the course in one of three ways. They can do it in person in the classroom, they can do it online in real-time, or they can take it as an asynchronous class.


00:00:16 Jennifer

But they don't have to decide when they register for the class. The class is always available across those modalities. And so, what may work for a student today might be different tomorrow or next week. And so, really just recognizing that this not only serves single mother students, but a lot of new traditional learners or adult students who are juggling families and jobs, and many other responsibilities.


00:00:44 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.


00:00:57 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?


00:01:09 Salvatrice

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


00:01:18 Christina

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


00:01:22 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.


00:01:36 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.


00:01:55 Christina

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


00:02:03 Salvatrice

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


00:02:09 Christina

Hi, this is Christina Barsi, the Executive Producer of the show. Before we begin today's episode, we want to wish you happy holidays from all of us at the Future of Work Podcast.


00:02:19 Christina

We decided to do something special this season and share with you our most loved episodes of 2022. The topics range from discussions on new media with Rob Greenlee, the Vice President of Partnerships at Libsyn, to post-secondary career programs with Jennifer Zeisler, the Senior Program Director of Career Readiness at ECMC Foundation, to tackling workforce inequity with Kome Ajise, the Executive Director of Southern California Association of Governments, and so much more.


00:02:47 Christina

We're so grateful for your listenership and are pleased to bring you your favorite topics once again. And if you are new to the show, this miniseries of 2022 favorites is a great place to start. Enjoy!


00:03:04 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice. Today, we'll be talking about educational success and why strategic planning is important. We will also talk about the importance of technical education and post-secondary career programs within higher education, as well as what we can all do to make sure we are properly training the future of work.


00:03:27 Salvatrice

With that being said, we are excited to welcome Jennifer Zeisler, Senior Program Director, Career Readiness at the ECMC Foundation. Jennifer oversees the strategy for a portfolio of grants committed to improving post-secondary career and tech education outcomes for students, specifically within underserved backgrounds.


00:03:48 Salvatrice

She also brings experience working with university students, government officials, foundation, and business executives, not to mention university administrators and nonprofit leaders through her previous position at the Clinton Global Initiative. Jennifer, thank you so much for joining us.


00:04:06 Jennifer

Thanks so much for having me.


00:04:08 Salvatrice

Thank you. Thank you. If you don't mind, I always like to kick off all of my conversations with what led you to this work. So, share with us a little about what led you to the path of ECMC Foundation and your interest within educational success and planning.


00:04:22 Jennifer

Yeah, I love this question, and I just love to think about why I am passionate about education. I come from a family of educators. Actually, my grandma's mom, my great grandmama, she put herself through college in the 1920s so that she could be a better teacher.


00:04:37 Jennifer

And my grandpa, same set of grandparents, his father actually left the family when he was a child and he saw how his mom struggled. And he really believed in the power of education as a means to financial stability, which is why he became an educator himself, and really encouraged or and maybe demanded that his children go to college.


00:04:57 Jennifer

Which was to my mom, in the sixties, which was not that common for women at that time. And so, last point here, is that my mom did become an educator as well. I had her for a teacher from kindergarten to 12th grade. I grew up in a very small rural community. And then my dad actually was my college professor for four years. Both my parents were music educators, so I always was in their class. So, anyway, I guess you could say that education is in my genes.


00:05:26 Salvatrice

Thank you. So, that's what led you to this work. What led you to ECMC Foundation? And what role, if you can kind of unpack a little bit the role that you serve with this passion within educational planning and strategic planning, what role do you serve there as well?


00:05:42 Jennifer

Sure. So, I mean maybe it would help if I shared a little about ECMC Foundation. We are a Los Angeles-based, nationally-focused foundation committed to improving post-secondary persistence and completion for students from underserved backgrounds.


00:05:54 Jennifer

And as you shared already, I oversee the grant-making strategy focused on post-secondary, career, and technical education or CTE, the types of programs which prepare students for middle-skill roles.


00:06:06 Jennifer

And so, without moving too far away from the question, I just want to touch on that for a minute because I think that this is really a time to talk about and uplift those roles in those positions.


00:06:15 Jennifer

We know that middle-skill roles, those that require some education and training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor's degree, they have not only been critical to our general functioning as a country over the last few years, but they account for more than half of the jobs in the United States.


00:06:33 Jennifer

So, I really, as someone who grew up with this focus and commitment to education, really believe in the opportunity that career and technical education provides for individuals in moving into these middle-skill roles.


00:06:44 Salvatrice

You gave a really nice glimpse of how this foundation serves, and might there be an example you can share about the foundation in action?


00:06:53 Jennifer

Yeah. I think drawing from my own background and experience, one of the initiatives that I'm the most proud of is ECMC foundation's commitment to single mother students. So, we know that more than one in 10 undergraduate students in the United States is a single mother. And among these single mothers, 90% are living at or near the poverty line. And a disproportionate amount are women of color.


00:07:15 Jennifer

Nearly half are attending community colleges where they're pursuing these career and technical education programs like healthcare and information technology. And again, all of those roles that really got us through the last few years, if we think about it.


00:07:27 Jennifer

But despite getting better grades than their non-parenting peers, single mother students, they're not completing at the same rate. Only 11% of single-mother students complete an associate degree on time. So, this matters, and single mother students who earn an associate degree are nearly half as likely to live in poverty as those with a high school diploma.


00:07:48 Jennifer

And this is why this matters to ECMC Foundation. In fact, we have doubled our commitment to support single-mother students over the next five years, and really, working to increase the percentage of single-mother students who attain an associate degree.


00:08:02 Salvatrice

How does that look like at a local level? Is that a community college, applying for the grant funds to then support the student or is that the student going directly to the foundation? What does that look like?


00:08:13 Jennifer

Yeah, that's a great question. So, we're really interested in systemic change, and so I would say the majority of our grant-making is in supporting intermediaries who are working directly with community colleges to increase their data capacity to help them implement innovative approaches and flexible schedules, and ways that can meet single mother students where they are.


00:08:37 Jennifer

We do provide some support to direct service organizations, although that is less common, and some directly to post-secondary institutions. But the majority of our grants go to intermediaries.


00:08:49 Salvatrice

Is that an intermediary, for example, a workforce development agency or another foundation doing this work?


00:08:56 Jennifer

So, the intermediaries that we support tend to be national organizations with some type of expertise. So, for example, one of our grantees, the Education Design Lab uses human-centered design to help a cohort of four community colleges really understand the opportunities and challenges that their single-mother students are facing, and to implement innovative approaches to improve those credential attainment rates.


00:09:22 Jennifer

Would it be okay if I gave you an example of one of the community colleges participating in Education Design Labs?


00:09:30 Salvatrice

Absolutely. Please share.


00:09:32 Jennifer

Yeah. Okay. So Ivy Tech, a community college system in Indiana, they developed this approach where they label a course to say that a student can take the course in one of three ways. They can do it in person in the classroom, they can do it online in real-time, or they can take it as an asynchronous class.


00:09:49 Jennifer

But they don't have to decide when they register for the class. The class is always available across those modalities. And so, what may work for a student today might be different tomorrow or next week. And so, really just recognizing that this not only serves single mother students, but a lot of new traditional learners or adult students who are juggling families and jobs and many other responsibilities.


00:10:14 Salvatrice

That's a stellar example. I really like that a lot. And it made me think about as a community college system, that is an incredible example of one, but I also wonder as a system, are we truly equipped as community colleges to really help students within this post-secondary and CTE environment through your lens?


00:10:34 Salvatrice

I have a biased lens. I'm going to say yes all the time. Of course, we're ready. Of course, we've got the best of the best. But it's helpful to hear it through your perspective and this perspective of others in this work.


00:10:46 Jennifer

Well, I think I share your bias. So, I would say yes, absolutely. We know that 65% of undergraduate students enroll in a community college at some point after completing high school. And community colleges offer an affordable, flexible route for millions of students to develop skills and earn credentials that they need to access not only those middle-skill jobs, but the jobs of the future.


00:11:08 Jennifer

And because of the vital role that community colleges play, and especially for students from historically underrepresented communities, more than half of ECMC Foundation's grant-making has supported community colleges and really more so, going back to my comment about intermediaries; the organizations that serve community colleges and serve the students attending community college.


00:11:29 Salvatrice

Got it. Are there changes you think that need to happen to ensure that the student is getting the adequate training? Or are you saying Salvatrice, I think we're on the right path. Do we need to make small tweaks? Sure. But if there's a significant need that we can't see because we're in the work, I'd love to hear that.


00:11:48 Jennifer

Yeah, I don't think I'm going to tell you anything you don't know, but here's what we've seen from our grantees. Who are doing this great work and from where we sit at the foundation, we're at that 30,000-foot view - we see across a portfolio of great work and we are able to lift up the learnings and really see those themes and those trends.


00:12:03 Jennifer

So, yeah, we'd love to ensure that students have access to basic needs. And so, childcare, housing, transportation, mental health. I don't know how much we talked about that before the last couple years. Also, collecting and analyzing data.


00:12:17 Jennifer

So, certainly, again probably not a surprise, but really ensuring that decision-making centers equity, but also incorporates the perspective of the groups, the students that are most affected. The idea of student voice comes up often for us at the foundation and I think for our grantee community. This is one I think that is really, really important.


00:12:37 Jennifer

And that is building and broadcasting quite frankly, pathways from short-term credentials to longer-term academic opportunities. We just worry so much that students won't pursue those additional credentials if they stop out after micro-credential credential for example, or that the training may be terminal and that they won't have credit to continue on.


00:12:57 Jennifer

And so, making sure those pathways are available and that students know about them, I think that's one of the other elements there. And then finally, developing those essential partners with community-based organizations and employers, I think both play such a significant role in supporting the learner and the student and the worker to access those better jobs and those family-sustaining opportunities.


00:13:18 Salvatrice

You're right. And you hit a key stakeholder, which are the employers. And I wonder if through your work, if you've seen an uptick in employer engagement, and employers being interested in upskilling their existing workforce. Or are they being far removed from that.


00:13:36 Salvatrice

Through our work, it kind of depends on where you are, but as a national organization, I wonder if you're seeing an uptick with employer engagement.


00:13:44 Jennifer

I quite frankly don't know if I have a good answer for this question, because I think pre-pandemic, we saw a real increase in employer engagement. I think we saw community colleges recognizing that employer engagement needed to go beyond advisory committee Friday morning coffee or whatever, the stereotype is there.


00:14:01 Jennifer

And we saw employers on campus and educators inviting employers and really bridging those divides. And what I heard from a community college administrator is that we learned a lot after 2008 and we're not going back, that employers see their role in educating their workforce as much as the education community sees in providing an educated workforce, preparing an educated workforce.


00:14:22 Jennifer

And so, I want to believe that's true. I just don't know what these two years have done both in terms of impacting all of that progress and that relationship building, and also, maybe carving out new opportunities to do things a little bit differently. I think we're still just kind of surviving and I'm not sure if we're ready to move into that next phase or what that's going to look like.


00:14:42 Salvatrice

Right. And we're seeing many, many organizations and establishments really kind of creating their own micro university within their four walls and their place of business to specifically more what I've seen, is training the new workforce coming in. But we have an enormous opportunity and we're forgetting about the existing workforce.


00:15:03 Salvatrice

I think sometimes as a network, as a system, we place a lot of emphasis on new workforce but not the existing. So, that's why I asked that question because through our lens we are seeing employers engage, but they're, to your point earlier, they're engaging by training their own, training their new workforce on their own.


00:15:22 Salvatrice

I think a lot for specifically around flexibility, being nimble, and even some companies are saying, "Look, we have specific software intelligence that we would rather train our own" and we don't want them here with previous backgrounds or previous trainings.


00:15:39 Salvatrice

Might the foundation have an initiative in the pipeline that serves the existing workforce that you can speak to? And if not, that's okay, but I just thought, gosh, we're on this topic, might not be a bad idea to ask the question.


00:15:52 Jennifer

I don't think we have like exactly the initiative in the works that you're talking about, but I do want to say a couple things. I think for as many conversations that I'm in where I hear employers say we want younger workers, we want people that we can train and craft and we don't have to overcome their bad habits, we hear the complete opposite.


00:16:10 Jennifer

And at the same time, where they're like, we don't want young workers, they just look at their phone all day. We want people who are mature and have customer service skills. And so, there's like always this like debate and tension and well, okay, let's educate everyone.


00:16:24 Jennifer

And I think where we're maybe not talking about upskilling, we are recognizing that the average age of a community college student is 27, the late twenties, the early thirties. These are individuals who as I said before, have lives, have jobs - potentially are in jobs that they want to stay in and advance in. So, while we're not directly talking about it, it is absolutely part of our day-to-day and our core work.


00:16:45 Jennifer

One other thing I want to touch on in this question; we are seeing an increased interest in institution-led apprenticeship, but what excites me about it is that it's got the best of the apprenticeship model, which is employer-paid work-based learning, and the best of the community college, which is trained educators and the supports and the systems that come with the academic experience while also moving the individual along an academic pathway towards an associate degree, and providing that social capital in the workplace.


00:17:15 Jennifer

So, this is something I'm really excited about it. As far as I understand with traditional apprenticeship, it's not always the case that that associate degree is connected or that the community college is engaged. And so, I think that that's a real exciting and potentially growing movement for community colleges in the years to come.


00:17:31 Salvatrice

You pre-answered a question that I had, which was really what steps should we be taking at this point to do business a little bit differently and train a little bit differently so that we have a fully-trained workforce both new and existing. Are you saying that perhaps these institutional apprenticeships are really kind of the way to go, and really our next step to fulfilling that mission?


00:17:54 Jennifer

I'm not saying they're the only way to go, but I'm saying they're another option. I think just everybody learns differently, and recognizing that people have varied experiences with education, and they're entering education for various reasons. And so, making sure that our educational systems are aligned to that and really meeting students where they are. I think that's probably the real takeaway there.


00:18:15 Salvatrice

And that's a delicate or sometimes tricky approach because although we want to meet the student where they are, everyone's student within their respective institution is in a different position. So, when you have a system trying to do the same thing, sometimes it's not a one size fits all. That's all I'm suggesting.


00:18:32 Salvatrice

I often think too, is should we be customizing our approach? Should we be working with foundations like ECMC to establish customized approach to fully training our workforce? And I don't have a concrete example of what that might look like, but if I took a look at just the LA region, Pasadena City College is leading the consortium of community colleges, and there's 19 of us in LA County alone.


00:19:00 Salvatrice

And this college and our sister college about 10 miles away or 15 miles away serves an entirely different population. And so, the customized approach to training or even our customized approach to delivering, there's an opportunity there, and I wonder if there's room for foundations or entities like ECMC to explore that with us. I don't know, I'm just kind of planting a seed, Jennifer, I'm planting a seed.


00:19:28 Jennifer

I see why you invited me to this podcast. This is all a big pitch in disguised as a podcast conversation.


00:19:34 Salvatrice

That's right. That's right. That's what I'm doing.


00:19:36 Jennifer

So, your question's spot on though. I think this is the role that philanthropy plays. We're positioned to support the testing of solutions and the scaling of solutions to address these systemic issues. If this was all figured out already, then these systemic issues wouldn't still exist.


00:19:52 Jennifer

So, in an ideal situation like philanthropy comes in, tests, there's a robust evaluation, there's a dissemination, you've got that consortium. You've got partners and colleagues to share your learnings. That's what we look for in philanthropy. We absolutely are open to those risks, but we really want to see how can we improve persistence and completion for students from underserved backgrounds, and let's try new things to figure out what we can do to make that happen.


00:20:16 Salvatrice

Well, I'll tell you what, if you're interested in a think tank, Jennifer, I can get lots of thought leaders around this topic of system change, I should say, and just thinking creatively. I mean, now, is the time to do it. There's no better time than the present. We hear that all the time. But legitimately, now, is the time to do it. Like that's real talk now. So, I offer that invitation or if there's ever space for that, Jennifer, please lean on us for it.


00:20:44 Jennifer

I welcome the opportunity to connect with you on that. It's a real privilege to work in philanthropy, and what's so important is that we are listeners and that we hear what is happening and whether that's with the administrators, with the faculty, with the staff, with the students. And not to leave out the community-based organizations and the employers as well. But this is the role we play. So, absolutely. I like to say my door or my Zoom window is always open.


00:21:09 Salvatrice

So true. So true. This podcast is about the future of work, no doubt about it. And the way we position the podcast to talk about, there's so many elements and factors and variables to the future of work. If there could be one magical thing that you want our listeners to take away from this conversation as it relates to CTE and the impacts and preparedness for the future of work trainings, what would that be?


00:21:33 Jennifer

There's a bit of myth busting or stigma attached to middle-skill jobs. And I think in particular, when we talk about the trades. And yet, we have celebrated individuals in these roles for the last two, almost three years. And when I really think about the individuals in these roles and the many folks that I've met through the years, I see creative, service-oriented, problem solvers working with these positions.


00:21:57 Jennifer

It's time we start to like flip the script here and start to celebrate these individuals in a new way. Not only have they been essential to the basic functioning of our society over the last few years, but that they're bringing this very valuable skill set to their work.


00:22:11 Jennifer

Just to add on to that; the pandemic has had a disproportionate economic effect on women and people of color. If we look towards our economic recovery, we need more workers, in particular, women and people of color trained for these middle-skilled roles that will power our future.


00:22:27 Salvatrice

Then I invite you, Jennifer, to ... another invite by the way. I invite you to join us in that conversation of flipping the script. You know, community colleges, I believe, are the ones that can do that.


00:22:39 Jennifer

I completely agree.


00:22:41 Salvatrice

We can. We are the voice of our community, we are the voice of our students and the skilled workforce. And I think that to your point, I agree with you a hundred percent that we do need to flip that script, and I think it starts with us. And so, if there's ever an opportunity for us to share that or to work on that together, be delighted to.


00:23:04 Jennifer

I have to say I think community colleges are doing it and are screaming about it. I think the rest of us need to amplify that. So, yes, let's continue this conversation, absolutely.


00:23:16 Salvatrice

I love the word. I love that word amplify. That's my favorite word by the way.


00:23:19 Jennifer

Me too.


00:23:20 Salvatrice

We do need to amplify the work and amplify the narrative. Thank you, I really appreciate that. This has been a wonderful conversation, and here are my takeaways. My takeaways were, we're going to start a new initiative together.


00:23:34 Jennifer

Love this ... wait a second.


00:23:37 Salvatrice

But I had some real nice takeaways here and it's the last one that we just heard, which is really about flipping the script. About the intentionality around institutional apprenticeships, really kind of reexamining our approach to the skills, trades, and being very strategic about it.


00:23:56 Salvatrice

I think sometimes - and this is not just community colleges, sometimes we like to kind of put out this one pathway, this one approach, and assume that it's going to fit every micro-region within this county specifically because that's the only thing I can speak to at the moment. That's my knowledge base.


00:24:11 Salvatrice

I think there's so much more that we can do and just please include us as your partner. If you ever need anything, feel free to reach out to us, and if we wanted to connect with you, if our listener wanted to connect with you, where and how is the best place to do that?


00:24:24 Jennifer

I'll absolutely share that. But can I just add on one thing to your takeaways?


00:24:27 Salvatrice



00:24:27 Jennifer

And I heard this once, this sort of saying like we expect students to be college-ready and we spend so much time and resources on preparing students for college when really, our colleges need to be student ready. And I think we think about that a lot in our work and ensuring that we're really meeting students where they are.


00:24:45 Salvatrice

Absolutely. Thank you.


00:24:47 Jennifer

Yeah. So, yes, in terms of getting in touch with me, listeners can visit ECMC Foundation's website at to learn more about our focus areas and how to apply for funding. And if you want to connect with me directly, you can find me on LinkedIn.


00:25:05 Salvatrice

Fantastic. We'll be sure to put that in the show notes for our listeners. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time and I look forward to working with you.


00:25:14 Jennifer

Thank you.


00:25:15 Salvatrice

I see a future partnership here.


00:25:17 Jennifer

Thanks. I've really enjoyed the conversation and I look forward to staying in touch.


00:25:20 Salvatrice

Thank you. Thanks, Jennifer.


00:25:21 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.


00:25:34 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.