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Transcript 103: Creating A Collaborative Strategy For Educational Flexibility With Mayor Gordo

Sep 26, 2023

00:00:01 Gordo

Formal education is important, but it comes in so many different ways. Not every individual, whether they're a high schooler or later on in their career, wants to go on to receive a bachelor's or a master's or a doctorate or a law degree. Those who do we should encourage to do so and help in every way that we can, and we will do that. And Pasadena City College certainly provides those opportunities.


00:00:29 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.


00:00:59 Christina

And I'm Christina Barsi, producer 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.


00:01:31 Christina

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


00:01:39 Salvatrice

And I am Salvatrice Cummo. And this is the Future of Work.


00:01:45 Salvatrice

Hi everyone and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast, I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. Today, we'll be talking about the city of Pasadena and the local government. We will also talk about how community colleges can work with their respective cities to better the opportunities for their constituents.


00:02:02 Salvatrice

With that being said, we are very excited to welcome Mayor Victor Gordo, Mayor of Pasadena. Mayor Gordo was elected Pasadena's third citywide elected mayor on November 3rd, 2020. Throughout his time as mayor, he has focused on fostering an improved quality of life and promoting safe, family-friendly environments throughout the city. Mayor Gordo also serves as a General Counsel and Secretary Treasurer for the Laborers' International Union of North America Local 777.


00:02:34 Salvatrice

Good morning, Mayor Gordo, thank you for joining us.


00:02:39 Gordo

Good morning Salvatrice. Thank you for having me.


00:02:41 Salvatrice

You bet. Such an honor to have you, and I know that your schedule's very impacted and so for you to carve up some time for us, we are absolutely honored and grateful that you did that.


00:02:51 Gordo

Well, thank you for having me. It's an honor.


00:02:52 Salvatrice

This is a question that I ask all of our guests that come to our show about the future of work. If you can share a little bit about what led you to become mayor.


00:03:01 Gordo

Sure. So, I was originally born in Zacatecas, Mexico, small village. My parents brought me to Pasadena when I was five. So, I grew up in Pasadena from age five, delivered the Star News, worked in local restaurants, and the Star News was our local newspaper for those who remember newspapers.


00:03:17 Gordo

And because I delivered it every day, I followed the front page and the local news and became very interested in civic government. All the different issues, the different personalities, and I became more and more involved as I attended Pasadena City College and then went on to higher education, including law school.


00:03:39 Gordo

And I just took an interest. I appreciated what residents of Pasadena had done for me and my family, and decided that I wanted to be involved.


00:03:51 Salvatrice

That was a pleasant surprise. I didn't know that you attended Pasadena City College. That's excellent. It's so appropriate for this conversation.


00:04:00 Salvatrice

And at what moment did you decide like, "This is where I want to be, I want to get involved in local government." What point of that either academic journey or professional journey where you said, this is the moment I need to be there?


00:04:11 Gordo

I think it was probably in my late teens when I was contemplating higher education and law school, I decided I needed a higher education degree that allowed me to participate in local government, but also make a living if I could.


00:04:29 Gordo

And I decided that law was the path for me and I made that decision in part because I wanted to participate in local government. And so, that's what I did. I went on to school and ultimately received my law degree, became a practicing attorney and ran for office.


00:04:48 Salvatrice

And you did that all simultaneously or was that ... how did it work out? Because you're making it sound very easy, Mayor Gordo, but I know it's not.


00:04:56 Gordo

No, it was a lot of work. I was campaigning as I was studying for the bar exam. And fortunately, I only had to take the bar exam one time because it took a lot to campaign and also a study for the California bar exam. I got it done and they ran pretty concurrent tracks, similar and concurrent tracks.


00:05:18 Salvatrice

I didn't know that. That's great. I had no clue. I'm learning so much in this conversation in the matter of two minutes that we've been talking to each other. As I think about the sunset of your first-term as mayor, might there be issues or opportunities, let's flip the script here. Issues or opportunities that you've encountered here in Pasadena that the public or our constituents and our listeners may not be aware of?


00:05:46 Gordo

Sure. The first two years in office were dedicated to helping the city wind its way through COVID. I was elected in the middle of a world pandemic. It was tough. There were many days when it was the city manager, the fire chief, the health director, and the police chief and me at City Hall. And some days it was just the city manager and me at City Hall.


00:06:09 Gordo

And we were trying to ensure that services kept running in the city, ensure that city was doing all it could to support its residents, to support its businesses, ensuring that we were coordinating with other local governments as well as state and federal officials. And that took the better part of the first two years of my mayorship. Fortunately, we've made it to the other side.


00:06:37 Gordo

Coming out of that, I've now turned my attention to ensuring that the city's budget is replenished and we've accomplished that. We've backfilled the reserves that we spent during COVID, about $30 million. Our reserve is fully funded, our budget is balanced. We also turned attention to ensuring that we were fully staffed because we had quite a few retirements during COVID.


00:07:01 Gordo

Now we're focused on some of the issues that I wanted to accomplish before the pandemic when I was running for office. And that includes job training and mental health services to residents of Pasadena and beyond. I'm very focused on helping and PCC is playing a pivotal role on the job training aspect and even the mental health aspect.


00:07:26 Salvatrice

This leads me to think about with the most recent events in the last couple of years, we've seen and we've heard that LA County was down 3000 mental health clinicians, which led to massive components in training components, I should say, even within PCC and other institutions. That being said, how can we as a college continue to work with the city to fill those workforce gaps?


00:07:52 Gordo

Sure. Well, I think that they're sort of interconnected. But yeah, the LA County has reported to us that they have a shortage of 3000 mental health professionals. That's a tremendous shortage. They have the resources, they report to provide services. They just don't have the clinicians. And statewide, we went into the pandemic at a nearly 39.6% shortage in mental health clinicians at the state level.


00:08:23 Gordo

So, the profession is a difficult one, one where there's lots of opportunity, but also one that we need to double down on as educators, as government officials, local, county, and state government, and providing incentives for people to do this work because it is very difficult work.


00:08:43 Gordo

And one of the components of the mental health clinic that we're working to bring to Pasadena together with the county of Los Angeles is a job training component where clinicians would be trained as they provide services to residents of Pasadena and beyond.


00:09:02 Gordo

And so, it's not just a provision of mental health services at the clinic, it's also a training ground, if you will, for clinicians, bedside assistance and other medical professionals


00:09:16 Salvatrice

While they are gaining the knowledge and the education around becoming a clinician.


00:09:22 Gordo



00:09:22 Salvatrice

I see. You mentioned incentives, tell me more about that. What does that look like for you?


00:09:29 Gordo

One of the incentives that we've brainstormed together with the county is for the county to provide assistance with tuition, with books and supplies for students who agree to dedicate their career, or at least for a few years, to providing mental health services to the public.


00:09:46 Gordo

I think that that's a creative way to incentivize people to say to them, "We'll pay your tuition and your costs while you're in training and providing services," with the agreement that people would of course continue once they're prepared to provide services for a couple of years.


00:10:05 Salvatrice

Got it. And are there specific partners that you're looking for outside of healthcare industry partners? What other partners might you be looking for to fulfill the mission of this gap of clinicians that we're seeing?


00:10:19 Gordo

Anyone who wants to partner with us, we will partner with, but certainly educators, Pasadena City College is an important component, the Cal States, Cal State LA also is an important component, Huntington Hospital, the professionals at Huntington Hospital who can provide some of the training, but also provide jobs afterwards.


00:10:36 Gordo

The county of Los Angeles is a major partner because they will provide tuition, they provide the services, they can provide the training, all of the above and including the jobs. I think it's important when we have this type of training to also at the back end, ensure that people have a job to utilize their training and their skill.


00:11:00 Salvatrice

Got it. And thinking about, as a first gen student, you're a first gen student, I'm a first gen student. Thinking about our own respective journeys, in what ways do you think that along the same line, that the education system can improve to prepare our students for the workforce outside of what we traditionally think as training?


00:11:23 Gordo

I think understanding the various cultures that first generation students come from is important. Understanding the challenges that come with being a first generation student. PCC worked very well for me because of the flexibility. I could take some classes in the morning, go to work, and then come back in the evening and take other classes.


00:11:47 Gordo

So, it was that flexibility, that understanding that helped me to be successful. And I think having as much flexibility for first generation students, understanding the culture and certainly being able to communicate is very, very important. And the challenges faced by first generation students.


00:12:07 Salvatrice

That's right. I think that's why when you were talking about on the job training, training while gathering the education, and the incentives that you shared, I think allows for first generation students that flexibility. You're providing that solution now as we speak, like cultivating this project because as first gen student, I can speak to that as well, is there is flexibility.


00:12:32 Salvatrice

We're having to earn while we learn. And it's a double-edged sword. So, if you can earn and learn and be incentivized at the same time and your cost being covered, I think that that is incredible example of flexibility that you just mentioned.


00:12:48 Gordo

And that's what it takes. There's so many first generation students who want to get their education, want to provide the services to the community and be of service to the community, but have to earn and contribute to their family. And so, you're absolutely correct, helping them to learn and earn at the same time is very much key.


00:13:09 Salvatrice

And I would go even further, and this is ... I'm going to kind of go on a tangent here, Mayor Gordo, so bear with me, is really thinking about our existing employees, our existing workforce. Sometimes we think about workforce as new talent and we forget that there's existing talent.


00:13:26 Salvatrice

So, I'm super interested in working with our district, our cities, specifically with Pasadena, and how do we cultivate an energy, a movement around upskilling the existing workforce?


00:13:41 Salvatrice

Because I strongly believe that the gaps that we're seeing, whether it's in the health industry, whether it's in entertainment, whether it's in food services and management, I mean, you can think of any industry, any industry gap that we are faced with at this moment. There is a massive opportunity to upskill the existing workforce. And I think that together with cities and industry partners, we can also incentivize our employers to upskill their existing workforce.


00:14:12 Gordo



00:14:13 Salvatrice

There's some room there, there's some room there in filling the gaps while incentivizing the employers to upskill their existing workforce and educating our employers the value and the reasons and the benefits to upskilling the existing workforce.


00:14:28 Salvatrice

I mean, folks who work local, shop local.


00:14:32 Gordo

That's right.


00:14:33 Salvatrice

Just planting that seed in the event that you want another project Mayor Gordo.


00:14:38 Gordo

Well, no, that's got to be a part of everything that we do, these opportunities have to be available to workers who are already in the workforce and those who are new to the workforce. I agree with you 100%. And the employers that we're working with also agree.


00:14:56 Gordo

They agree that they're most likely to be successful with people who are already working for them and have established themselves as an employee of Kaiser or Huntington or Resnick, and now they want to further their career. I think we have a responsibility as educators and as a local government to work with businesses to help the employees do just that. I think that's absolutely correct.


00:15:23 Salvatrice

I'm 100% on board and the champion of that, happy to be a part of it. You just count us in, count PCC in because that's definitely our interest. I mean, PCC, specifically our division of economic and workforce development and I can speak to that directly.


00:15:39 Salvatrice

We are very interested in formalizing that a little more, so that there is more growth and prosperity in our local communities, more so than we've seen in the past. I think now is the best time to change things up and the best time to shift doing business outside of the norm.


00:16:02 Salvatrice

Speaking of which, our institution prides itself on its innovation and being one of the gems of the community college system, we have a lot of pride around that. Our community is very supportive. Our elected officials like yourself are very supportive of our work.


00:16:21 Salvatrice

How could we become better as an educational system through your lens? How could we be a better partner, a better educational system? And what might that look like for you? And how do we fulfill that?


00:16:34 Gordo

I think you're doing it. When we came up with a concept, for example, of the job training and partnership with the school district, PCC was the first one to jump on board and got it right away. Understood that we needed to have a pipeline from the school district to Pasadena City College. Understood that formal education is important, but it comes in so many different ways.


00:16:56 Gordo

Not every individual, whether they're high schooler or earlier on in their career wants to go on to receive a bachelor's or a master's or a doctorate or a law degree. Those who do we should encourage to do so and help in every way that we can. And we will do that and Pasadena City College certainly provides those opportunities.


00:17:17 Gordo

When I looked at the data, it was under 40% of all people in the history of this country, that ever went on to a two or four-year college or university and received some sort of certification. That told me that 60% were looking for other opportunities. And sometimes that requires certification. Sometimes it requires training.


00:17:40 Gordo

The point is that we meet the needs and provide options for everyone, whether it's the formal education or whether it's the training and certification. And I'm proud that PCC is right here in our community and doing that. And that's what we need to build upon in this effort with the school district, with the county, and with Pasadena City College and the city.


00:18:04 Salvatrice

Excellent. Thank you.


00:18:05 Gordo

Oh, and the trades, importantly the trades.


00:18:08 Salvatrice

And the trades. That's right. Speaking of which that's a beautiful segue into my next question for you is our Future of Work conference is just right around the corner on October 26th, and you are one of our panelists for that discussion.


00:18:21 Salvatrice

Given your position with the local union and just our preparations for the Future of Work, I'd like to kind of just put a teaser out there as to what could we get excited about, what are we going to get excited about to hear from you on the panel as it relates to the subject of trades?


00:18:41 Gordo

Well, the trades have changed. The trades have shifted. Technology is taking over and it's incredible to see careers that both provide a regular paycheck, but also a very good lifestyle because they provide a paycheck, a pension, health benefits, all the things that people need to live a decent quality of life. Those careers are expanding, they're expanding exponentially.


00:19:08 Gordo

I hear from the trades over and over, we need people, we need iron workers, the laborers, electricians, plumbers, and these careers have transitioned so much in terms of technology that there's real opportunity for people who, one, want to be a successful tradesperson or two, want to own their own company. I see a lot of people come in, train themselves, learn the business, and then go off and start their own company. And I applaud either/or.


00:19:44 Gordo

There are also opportunities now, we don't think of the trades as we used to, but the trades now include hospital workers, nurses and nursing assistants, restaurant professionals, hotel professionals, communications workers, the lines workers that work on our power lines, make 200 to $250,000 a year with overtime.


00:20:11 Gordo

So, all of those jobs, the fire service, law enforcement, all of those jobs are now considered part of the trades movement. So, I'm excited to talk about that. I'm excited to tell people about the various opportunities and the professions that are out there for them to take up.


00:20:31 Salvatrice

We're super excited about it and we're thankful that you'll be joining us that day. Before we conclude this conversation, you mentioned something that really resonated with me. You said the trades keep saying, we need people, we need people. And we hear that a lot, we need people, but it's so complex. It's a really complex issue, particularly because when we say the phrase, we need people that involves us being flexible.


00:20:58 Salvatrice

We talked about earlier, are we being flexible with training? Are we compensating well? Are we being inclusive of all communities? Thinking about even redefining trades? I mean, I think that the ... and we'll certainly dive deeper at the conference, but I feel like the perception of trades is shifting.


00:21:19 Salvatrice

It's shifting in that we're braiding in technology as you shared, we're shifting in that we're braiding in other industries that may not have thought of as trades. I'm really excited about the conference is like redefining trades in a positive way that allows for greater value propositions around this work. Because I think for so long there may have been a slight disconnect on what trades really is. And so, I thank you for that.


00:21:51 Gordo

Well, and you know, sometime in the late 80s, early 90s, we said everyone had to go to college to be successful. And that sort of made it sound as though if you didn't go to college and you went into the trades, then you weren't going to be successful.


00:22:05 Gordo

And I think that that harmed a lot of people because it's never been the case. As I said, under 40% have gone to college. And again, we'll support them, we'll help them get there. But we also have to provide opportunities. And there are lots of opportunities for those who want to pursue a career in the trades.


00:22:26 Salvatrice

Well, I'm super excited about it. I'm very excited about the conference, I look forward to seeing you there. I'm sure we'll connect before between now and then. But in the meantime, if our listeners would like to connect with you, Mayor Gordo, what might be the best way that they can do that?


00:22:39 Gordo

Best way is email


00:22:48 Salvatrice

Fantastic. We'll be sure to enter that into the show notes for everyone. Thank you so much.


00:22:52 Gordo

Thank you.


00:22:52 Salvatrice

And again, we look forward to you at the Future of Work Conference coming up on October 26th.


00:22:57 Gordo



00:22:57 Salvatrice

And looking forward to doing more great work with you, Mayor Gordo.


00:23:01 Gordo

Thank you, Salvatrice. And we'll see you soon.


00:23:03 Salvatrice

You bet. Thank you for listening to The Future of Work Podcast. Make sure you 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. 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.