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Transcript- Episode 104: Discover The Path To Success at The Future of Work Conference Episode 104

Oct 10, 2023

00:00:00 Leslie

I don't think that we need to be disrespectful. I don't think we need to be overly confrontational, but I think that indisruption, insignificant systems change in work that matters, there is a certain level of discomfort and you have to decide where you're going to stand. And so, sometimes that's uncomfortable.

00:00:22 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?

00:00:45 Salvatrice

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

00:00:54 Christina

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

00:01:12 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 policy makers, the educational institutions, and the community as a whole.

00:01:32 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'm Salvatrice Cummo, and this is the Future of Work.

00:01:43 Salvatrice

Welcome back, this is Salvatrice Cummo, your host, and I'm joined today by my friend and colleague in our division of Economic and Workforce Development, Ms. Leslie Thompson, our Director of Operations. Welcome back to the show. Leslie, how are you?

00:02:01 Leslie

Thank you. I'm great. How are you?

00:02:03 Salvatrice

Very good, very good. I have to tell you, I know I say this all the time, but I really enjoy these conversations because it does give a glimpse to our listener, kind of what's percolating in our brains from time to time. And I think that you and I have these convos and it's really great to even get feedback from our listeners. So, thank you for joining me again.

00:02:23 Leslie

Sure. We have a lot to talk about and we have a lot to talk about today too.

00:02:27 Salvatrice

What are we talking about?

00:02:28 Leslie

Well we're talking about the Future of Work Conference, our fifth annual Future of Work Conference, that is going to be on Thursday, October 26th from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM here on the beautiful Pasadena City College campus. And I'm pretty excited about it. I know you're excited about it, so let's get into it. What can folks expect?

00:02:47 Salvatrice

If I could share is I'd like to kind of spend a minute talking about how it was birthed. Like how did this idea of the Future of Work Conference come about? And I remember literally being in this office with you and we were just, again, having one of our brainstorming sessions and we were saying, "How do we raise awareness? How do we build urgency around the trajectory of our future of work and the future of our occupations and the future of the skills that are needed to fulfill some of these trends that we were looking at at the time?"

00:03:22 Salvatrice

And I can't remember what report it was, but I do remember us sitting here going, "Oh my gosh, how do we do this? How do we build awareness?" We came up with this concept of future of work, and it wasn't our concept, future of work exists. It is a language that exists in our world and plenty of agencies and people who are focused on the future of our workforce.

00:03:42 Salvatrice

It started off as a conversation about raising awareness about what is needed, about the conversations that are needed. And then it kind of developed into, well, maybe we use this platform as a way to not only prepare the workforce, but also raise awareness on the complexities on how to do that.

00:04:05 Salvatrice

We can sit here all day long and say, we need to have our new talent have these specific skills and we need our employers to do this. Well, there's the mechanics between all of that. What I've really enjoyed about our conferences this far is that it brought some awareness. It brought some awareness to, "Hey, you know what, we've actually had some system issues that we got to talk about first before we can even think about or solve the new pipeline development."

00:04:33 Leslie

And I think that's one of the things that I initially really loved about the idea was that at the time, I didn't know of any other community colleges that were hosting the kind of event that would bring this many different kind of practitioners into one space and have these conversations about how they specifically impact college students.

00:04:47 Leslie

We invited students and faculty and agents, all sorts of entities and representatives from those entities. And we did it purposefully on the campus and we centered that around the work that we do as community college practitioners in kind of the workforce development ecosystem. I thought that was pretty cool.

00:05:08 Leslie

And that was one of the things that I was initially really into, the idea of bringing all these different people together and tackling these things and always, always looking for ways to kind of highlight or emphasize infrastructure shortcomings.

00:05:21 Leslie

Because all these systems are so intricate and so just the bigger a system gets, the less regulated sometimes or maybe the wrong things get regulated and we don't pay enough attention to what I think would be the right things. And I realize that's a value call, but it's important to give spaces to highlight those kind of issues.

00:05:41 Leslie

I have a question for you, Salvatrice, thinking back on all the conferences we've had thus far, we've only had two in person out of the last four and two were virtual because of the pandemic.

00:05:54 Leslie

But each were uniquely different and had different topics and different guests. Is there anything that stands out for you out of any of those conferences as something that you learned, took away from it, impacted change down the line? Something that stands out for you?

00:06:09 Salvatrice

For sure. So, before I answer that question, I think the other thing that is worth mentioning is the value of this conference and any conference really, the beauty and the value of conference is convening people. And when you convene people who care about something, whatever that something is, ideas get generated, relationships get built, and connectivity happens in a very fundamental way that has lasting impacts. Like we know that, we fundamentally know that because we're humans and that's what humans do.

00:06:45 Salvatrice

And so, I want to underscore that here before I answer that question because that's the root of why anyone or any organization puts together a conference. And maybe I should just speak for myself. That's the reason why we do these conferences. For connectivity, for partnerships is baseline and then everything else is bonus. Heightened awareness, solving big issues, et cetera, et cetera.

00:07:11 Salvatrice

When I think about that question you asked, I immediately think about last year we had Dr. Jez come from California Competes and she shared a significant amount of data that revolved around kind of like our trajectory as community colleges and the future of work in a nutshell. I mean, there was a lot more to that obviously.

00:07:33 Salvatrice

And I encouraged the listener to go back on our website and take a look at her speech because her findings were incredibly impactful to me at the time and informed a lot of our work too moving forward. So much so, that she has been a wonderful partner, not only to this college, but scaling up to all 19 with our consortium. And so, just, I mean, not too long ago she presented to our 19 CEO colleges about performance of community colleges, about enrollments, about trends, about fill in the blank.

00:08:13 Salvatrice

It was a moment for me to sit back and say like, "Okay, it took that one conference, that one convening, that one invitation that now has allowed us to spread the talent and spread the knowledge across a system of community colleges through our consortium."

00:08:32 Salvatrice

And so, although there wasn't like something directly towards what we initially started with the future of work, meaning about preparing and skill building and all that good stuff from our initial thoughts about the future of work, but it built a connectivity or a partnership that is imperative to our work, that's important to our work. And like I said, not only for our college, but we scaled it across the 19. And she's a wonderful partner to our consortium and we're very grateful for that. So, that's one that comes to mind.

00:09:04 Leslie

I'm glad you pointed that out because I think that one of the main benefits of attending, like you said, not just our conference, but any conference are those moments, those kind of aha moments or the where you meet the right person and they have an idea, but they need a partner or they're looking for an idea and you happen to have one.

00:09:21 Leslie

All those kind of opportunities for idea sharing, for inspiration for seeds to take root, that you take it back and next thing you know you're impacting hundreds and thousands of lives through this one idea that took root somewhere else, that you might not even witness that. In this scenario that you're giving us, we witness that because we're part of the consortium.

00:09:41 Leslie

But we don't know how many people have left with an idea. And sometimes it's a disagreement, like, I don't agree with what you're saying, or I'm going to challenge that, I'm going to fix that or that problem. I see that problem differently now that you mention it, there is a problem, but I don't think that's it and I'm going to go work on something else.

00:09:57 Leslie

There's lots of opportunities for connection and idea generating, and it's more than just coming to a conference, passively receiving information, calling it PD, taking a half a day off of work and then going back to work. It's so much more than that. Like there's more value in it.

00:10:12 Leslie

And I think I like that example that you gave, that's a perfect example of a partnership being sparked. And now look at her expertise has been spread throughout the region. I mean, she was a good get for the conference. We were thrilled that she accepted, she gave a phenomenal presentation, and now that knowledge gets to be spread throughout the college. So, the relationship is just as beneficial for her as it is for us.

00:10:33 Salvatrice

And it's even informing the consortium's advocacy efforts.

00:10:36 Leslie

Yeah. Which is long-term effects.

00:10:38 Salvatrice

Long-term effects, long-term effects. And that's why I'm saying it was simple but incredibly impactful. And I can't wait to see what else transpires from that. But again, it underscores what you just said right now about seeding, about idea generating, also, this is community. This work, I'm going to even go as far as any work. Okay. Like any work that matters that people care about takes a coalition of the willing.

00:11:04 Salvatrice

And so, when you have like-minded or, and forget about like-minded, that's incorrect, driven, care, concern, passion about a particular subject or about a particular anything, that's when change happens, that's when ideas get generated. And so, you're right, even these conferences specifically our future work conference has allowed that.

00:11:28 Salvatrice

I mean, I even think about last year when our student shared his experience, well what did that do? That ignited some of the colleges that were in that space who personally came to me via phone or email or text and said it was because of that voice that I took it back to my campus, and we changed things up a little bit. We changed the programming a little bit.

00:11:52 Salvatrice

Or it also said we're on the right track, hearing his voice and his experience is telling us that we're on the right track. It could be a place for idea generating, but it also could be a place for validation. To validate that we are doing the things that matter to our community. And that continuing to fuse relationships, fuse the community in ways that we didn't think would come out of it.

00:12:18 Salvatrice

I mean, I guess that's the beauty of it. You said a word, you said, and correct me if I'm wrong, what I heard was we're bringing people together that care about change or looking for change. Did I get that right?

00:12:31 Leslie

I think what I said was not everyone has to agree with the ideas or identify the same problems within the system to acknowledge that change needs to happen.

00:12:39 Salvatrice


00:12:40 Leslie

But it gets inspired. So, now I'm going to change something.

00:12:43 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:12:44 Leslie

Either fix it, make it better. I would also argue that even broken systems to function require a coalition of the willing.

00:12:51 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:12:52 Leslie

Because we're all going along with it. I would suggest that we need more than a coalition of the willing. We need a coalition of the inspired. And if they're willing, then they need to be willing to go against the grain, but whatever.

00:13:03 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:13:03 Leslie

Change is important and it's necessary. And we try to highlight that as we expose or however you want to describe the different barriers and issues within the ecosystem.

00:13:13 Salvatrice

That came about indirectly, that message or those interactions or that behavior from the conference came out without us even putting too much thought around it. Meaning we didn't force that, that was organic. Organically, these things have happened. From our conference, this year we took note of that, we took note of that there's change agents out there doing this work.

00:13:36 Salvatrice

And at the end of the day, look, I'm going to be real, real talk. Individuals or people who attend conferences, they're naturally built as change agents. That's why they're there. They're there to gather information, build upon it, and come up with something like we just talked about.

00:13:56 Salvatrice

So, this year we said, "Well, how do we highlight, how do we acknowledge those efforts?" I'm really excited about the LA Changemaker award that we've announced for the conference. And I'm looking forward to the nominations because even individuals within our own network, we have a big network, you and I. Like we're in this work all day every day.

00:14:18 Salvatrice

Gosh, I can count five of them on one hand easily in a matter of seconds who we can highlight as change maker. Certainly it's not our decision and folks need to be nominated, or you can nominate yourself or you can nominate someone else.

00:14:35 Salvatrice

But I think that's going to bring a different level of awareness, not only to the topics that we uncover at these conferences, but also really highlighting individuals who are making a difference in this arena that we work in. Because you're right, it takes an individual and/or a group to work against the grain sometimes to make a change happen and to see significant results. And it might not happen overnight. We know that. Like in this system, it might not happen overnight, but it does eventually.

00:15:07 Leslie

I'm looking forward to seeing the nominations as well. I'm sure we're going to have no shortage of people to choose from.

00:15:13 Christina

That's right.

00:15:14 Leslie

Which is great.

00:15:15 Salvatrice

When you think back, I asked myself this question moments ago in preparations for our talk, but when you think back, what has been kind of the energy of our attendees? I mean, gosh, I could think back on our first one. I mean, that was just ...

00:15:30 Leslie

Yeah, first one was phenomenal. I mean, that was big. It was a big deal. It was a big event and the energy was high. It was very high energy. We saw a lot of different people. I was surprised at the kind of variety of people that we got at the cross sections. It was not just other college campuses, but I was excited to see that a lot of our colleagues from other campuses came. I think that's really cool.

00:15:53 Leslie

When your colleagues come to something you're doing, that means you're onto something. So, they showed up, definitely high energy. I know that we did a lot of interviews that first year for the podcast, just kind of capturing things and the podcast was just getting started around that time. And there was a lot of excitement around that.

00:16:11 Leslie

So, I think that first one was pretty special. And even on campus, just the production quality of the event was even noteworthy. Facilities setting up, it looks so great, what are you guys doing here? It was a lot of buzz. Everybody involved was a lot of buzz. That first one's always going to stand out as kind of-

00:16:30 Salvatrice

The signature one.

00:16:32 Leslie

The signature one, like the bar. And so, then, our next two after that were virtual. And then last year we did something a little different. We did a different setting, which was a beautiful venue, but there were a number of issues. Rain, still some COVID remnants. In fact, you were sick.

00:16:49 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:16:49 Leslie

There was a lot going on with that last one. So, there's a little bit of pressure on this one to be like now, okay, last year we were kind of coming back to real life, but this year we're really coming back to real life. It's our fifth annual, we want to make a big splash. We want it to have a good turnout and great energy. So, I think the one that stands out with the best energy was the very first one. And I'm hoping to surpass that this time.

00:17:09 Salvatrice


00:17:09 Leslie

How about you?

00:17:10 Salvatrice

Me too. And I think that taking a sneak peek at the speakers, I think it's going to be that buzz. And also, just the topic itself is going to give us a heightened energy. So, I'm really looking forward to it. Here's the thing, and I have to be really honest about this. I can't believe I'm going to share it here on this podcast, but when we first started thinking about the future of work conference, I was very careful around certain subject matters.

00:17:39 Salvatrice

Because of whatever, fill in the blank, you can call it politics, you can call it just the nature of the work. You can call whatever. But I think at this point, we are at a point that we need to kind of shift that. And I'm not suggesting being confrontational or controversial, but not being so apologetic about some topics that are going to come up in the future. Topics like labor, topics like inequities in labor, those kinds of things. Or topics like workforce conditions, certain policies that are hindering our site is growth. I mean, there's so much, there's so much in this world.

00:18:17 Leslie

I understand the need to be mindful, delicate. I'm not sure how we want to describe it. I understand the need for that, but me, I'm always like, "Well, let's disrupt it. Let's step on a few toes." I mean, I don't think that we need to be disrespectful. I don't think we need to be overly confrontational, but I think that in disruption, in significant systems change, in work that matters, there's a certain level of discomfort. And you have to decide where you're going to stand.

00:18:46 Leslie

And so, sometimes that's uncomfortable. And we've had many conversations about the balance. You find ourselves, we do have good relationships with businesses. But I also like to think that we're not doing business with businesses that aren't treating their employees fairly. We're not sending our students to bad jobs. We're not sending our students to bad internships if we can help it. We have a vetting process for the things that we're involved in.

00:19:09 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:19:10 Leslie

I think that I would have no problem challenging an employer or a business or anybody that had poor working conditions, weren't paying a living wage, but were heavily recruiting from the college or any community college. Why would we be sending our students there, especially if they were looking to partner with us. I'd like to think that we wouldn't be delicate about defending the best interest of our students.

00:19:32 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:19:32 Leslie

And the workforce that we support.

00:19:34 Salvatrice

Even thinking about it at scale, we think about our systems. There's elements of our systems, or the systems I should say, not just our system, but systems that we work in, that do need to be challenged or talked about at bare minimum without any fears of ruffling too many feathers.

00:19:51 Salvatrice

And to your point, it's okay. It's okay to be uncomfortable because that's underscoring why we're doing this for the fifth year. That's what sparks change. That's what sparks ideation around solutions, and so-

00:20:07 Leslie

I have an idea I'm going to put on record.

00:20:09 Salvatrice

Okay, go for it.

00:20:09 Leslie

That as we continue to have these iterations of the conference and other convenings or even podcast topics or even whatever, and we try to incorporate the student voice when we can, we give a lot of space to politicians or public speaker people that you're used to hearing from one of these times. Or at some point we need to create a space to hear from actual labor, to hear from people that have something to say, that have an axe to grind, but don't have a platform. I think that that might not be a bad idea. What do you think?

00:20:37 Salvatrice

Yeah, I know.

00:20:40 Leslie

Is that going to ruffle a feather? I don't know. I mean, I feel like that is the workforce. Let's hear from the workforce. Let's hear from the actual workforce. We say it all the time with a student voice. The student voice absolutely important. And we love to hear the student voice. But what happens when they're no longer students now they've gone into the workforce, let's give them a platform.

00:20:58 Salvatrice

That's right.

00:20:59 Leslie

There could be something out there that we don't see. Because as part of the workforce ourselves, we're in a very particular bubble in academia, we're in a very particular bubble. And a lot of the people that we work with are in very particular bubbles in government agencies, in certain entities, cities. Everybody's in their own little bubble, but none of us that are having this conversation work in factories or work in the front lines or do any of that stuff.

00:21:26 Salvatrice


00:21:27 Leslie

We don't. We're kind of removed from it. So, I'm just proposing that because I got inspired talking about ideas.

00:21:34 Salvatrice

Well, I'm glad you did. I'm glad you did. That is a wonderful direction I think for us to go into. And you had me thinking about something while you were saying that, sharing the voices of the workforce. I thought to myself, like it kind of sparked past conversations that you and I have had about the human approach to the work that we do.

00:21:56 Salvatrice

And like it's less transactional. Like course, going to an internship, gather the skills and then get into a job like that's transactional. It's 1, 2, 3, 4, but what about everything else in between? And I think that's what you're trying to underscore.

00:22:10 Salvatrice

And then it also led me to think about our past conversations about empowerment and about workforce empowerment. And this is not so much about development, it's really about empowerment and like how do we start shifting the narrative around the work that we do?

00:22:24 Salvatrice

And so, I'm planting this seed with you, Ms. Thompson, just as you planted with me. Let's talk more about that because we're doing some work around shifting the narrative of economic and workforce, particularly our division, economical workforce development. It's less about development, it's more about empowerment.

00:22:42 Salvatrice

And so, as we start to uncover and discover some of the things within our own work and shifting that narrative, I'd like to come back and share that and maybe do some more brainstorming because there's a lot more to it. And shifting the narrative, not only just for us, like I said, but before the system as a whole.

00:22:59 Leslie

I love that.

00:23:00 Salvatrice

I feel like you're not really that excited about it.

00:23:02 Leslie

Oh, I'm excited.

00:23:03 Salvatrice

That didn't sound excited to me.

00:23:04 Leslie

I'm trying to be delicate about everybody's feelings, so I'm really excited about it. I think it's a worthwhile endeavor for sure.

00:23:10 Salvatrice

Well, that's the next episode of the podcast is us really sharing out what we found, what we discovered, what shifting that narrative is going to mean. Not only for this college but for the system, because we are doing our own discovery. We are asking students and we are doing focus groups around the students in the workforce. And so, that'd be really kind of fun to unpack a little later.

00:23:34 Leslie

I think discovery and exploration is always a good idea. And I think to wrap it up here and to bring it back to the conference, I think that folks should attend so they can do their own discovery. So, they can have their own inspiration so they can make their own changes. I mean, we think we're doing it the best, but we're not the only ones reflecting and adapting and changing to meet the world as it's evolving. So, I think everybody else is doing that too.

00:23:56 Leslie

I think that people come out to the conference, they're going to get some ideas, they're going to have some inspiration and I can't wait to see who we're going to meet. Somebody awesome show up and let's meet. Let's hang out. Let's talk, share your ideas. I'd love to hear them. Obviously, we're going to be there with bells and whistles to welcome people to the campus on October 26th.

00:24:16 Salvatrice

That's right. October 26th here at PCC. From eight to two.

00:24:21 Leslie

From eight to two, yeah.

00:24:23 Salvatrice

We'll be sure to enter that information in the show notes for our listener to register. The sooner the better.

00:24:28 Leslie

And more information coming, also view our socials. If you're not following us, follow us. There's more information coming out there. put in EWD, you can go to our website, we got tons of information there. So, there's going to be communication coming out if you haven't already seen it, but connect with us if you have questions ahead of time, reach out to us.

00:24:47 Leslie

And if you have ideas for future topics, not just for the podcast, but future topics for conferences or convenings or other feedback. We do surveys after every conference and we usually get overwhelmingly good feedback.

00:25:00 Leslie

But maybe you're going to watch it from home, maybe you're going to livestream it. I think there's different options for viewing the event if you can't come in person, but tune in or show up and engage with us because that's what we want. We want to engage.

00:25:13 Salvatrice

Thank you for putting that call to action to our listener. Like we definitely want to hear back. Well, our time's up here, Ms. Thompson. And I'll see you at the next round at the next chat.

00:25:25 Leslie


00:25:28 Salvatrice

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.

00:25:38 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.