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Transcript - Episode 74: The Key To Aligning Higher Education With The Current Workforce, With Dr. Su Jin Jez Executive Director At California Competes Episode 74

Jul 19, 2022

The Key To Aligning Higher Education With The Current Workforce, With Dr. Su Jin Jez Executive Director At California Competes Episode 74 


00:00:00 Dr. Jez

Higher ed is not just needed for a small elite group of jobs anymore. To really have a living wage job, to have a comfortable life, you really need some post-secondary education. In the U.S., your job ties to so much. Your job is really important for quality of life and prosperity across the board. And those jobs that provide those benefits increasingly need some post-secondary training.


00:00:30 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.


00:00:42 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?


00:00:55 Salvatrice

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


00:01:03 Christina

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


00:01:07 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.


00:01:21 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.


00:01:41 Christina

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


00:01:48 Salvatrice

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


00:01:54 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, and welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. Today, we'll be talking about higher education and workforce alignment, and what changes we need to make to ensure we are preparing the next generation of workforce.


00:02:06 Salvatrice

We will also talk about some of the programs that are currently in place, and programs to look forward to, to help career readiness. With that being said, we are excited to welcome Dr. Su Jin Jez, Executive Director at California Competes, where she works to develop nonpartisan and financially pragmatic recommendations for improved higher education and workforce policies, as well as practices across California.


00:02:33 Salvatrice

Dr. Jez has presented across the country and internationally on key issues in higher education and system change, including economic and workforce development, college readiness and success, student college choice, and decision-making, as well as institutional effectiveness.


00:02:52 Salvatrice

She is also an accomplished researcher, widely published and led a large-scale study of the California Community College Chancellor's Office, economic and workforce development program, and co-authored multiple reports analyzing the role of California Community College career technical education in the college completion agenda. We are extremely excited to welcome you, Dr. Jez, how are you today?


00:03:21 Dr. Jez

Doing well, how are you? I'm happy to be here too.


00:03:23 Salvatrice

Thank you so much. You know, we all have really busy schedules, but I know that yours is tremendously busy, especially during this time of year. If you don't mind, let's just get right into it. If you wouldn't mind telling me Dr. Jez, if you can share with us really kind of what led you to this work in higher education and workforce development, and why is it something that continues to interest you?


00:03:45 Salvatrice

I get this question a lot - I'm always interested in hearing like-minded practitioners answer this question.


00:03:53 Dr. Jez

This work, it's really personal to me. Growing up, my parents didn't have a chance to complete college. My mom didn't a chance really to go to college, and they emphasized how important going to college was and instilled in me the value of higher education and the doors it could open.


00:04:10 Dr. Jez

But then I also saw how inequitable access to higher education was. And from that, it really drove my interest in trying to make sure that this core function, higher education, workforce development is something that all folks could access and could climb up the economic ladder to have to have better lives.


00:04:31 Dr. Jez

And that's what we really focus on is how do we build access to higher ed? How do we build higher ed systems that promote completion? And then how do we make sure that higher Ed's aligned to labor market, workforce, outcomes and can strengthen our state's economy and the individuals in our state.


00:04:52 Salvatrice

We share similar stories. You know, my parents as well were immigrants in this country and they really pushed the value of education and the importance of education, and the importance that it does propel you forward in life. And I'm honored to be working in higher ed. I know you are too, I can tell in your voice.


00:05:11 Salvatrice

And you mentioned three very important themes in your response, but before we get into the how and what that looks like, I'm interested in really knowing why? Personally from your perspective, why is it important that higher ed aligns with workforce? Everyone has a different answer when I ask this question, because workforce is so fluid, but I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts.


00:05:36 Dr. Jez

Yeah, I think higher education is critical to our state's economy, to the workforce. And for individuals thinking about issues of equity, improving higher ed workforce alignment allows for better transitions from higher ed into good jobs and allows for better economic mobility.


00:05:55 Dr. Jez

And work that California Competes has done has identified a large gap in how many graduates our higher ed system in California is producing, and the number of graduates that our workforce needs. And to close that gap, we've identified closing equity gaps as being key to that, ensuring that we get more students of color, more first-generation students, more immigrants, more adult learners into and through higher ed.


00:06:21 Dr. Jez

But that also, means that these individuals like myself don't have access to professional networks. My parents didn't complete college, weren't in professional careers, none of our family or friends. So, when you complete college, you now have to find a job and that can be really hard if you don't have that sort of career capital, the social capital that's going to help you figure out what our professional career is. How do you apply for it? How do you interview? And then sort of like how do you enter that labor market?


00:06:48 Dr. Jez

So, thinking about higher ed's role around sort of an equity agenda, I think that's really critical. But also, thinking about sort of our statewide economic and social demands and needs. California has an incredibly strong economy and California's I think a place that so many folks want to move to because of the strength of our communities and the social fabric of our state.


00:07:12 Dr. Jez

But that also, really depends on the ability of higher education institutions in serving our state. And you could think about that in a number of ways. For example, thinking about the shortage of teachers, those teachers are trained by higher ed. So, we need higher ed to understand that our society, our state needs more teachers and produce more teachers, and be responsive to meeting those workforce needs.


00:07:35 Dr. Jez

We are in the summer of 2022, and I think every Californian is thinking about wildfires in our state. Our state's ability to prevent, to sort of not have wildfires that devastate our state, higher ed has a really big role in that too, from training firefighters, but also, to training arborists who can cut down trees that are growing too close to power lines, to growing technology that reduces dependence on more dangerous energy systems, et cetera. So, the role of higher ed in just sort of maintaining our state's sort of social fabric is also really critical.


00:08:12 Salvatrice

And would you agree that a huge partner in doing this work are our employers. And we've been working diligently, we as a system, as a community college system have been working diligently around that employer partnership in order to fulfill a solution or fulfill the problem, I should say, and find a solution for workforce and higher ed alignment.


00:08:37 Salvatrice

I mean, I would say at bare minimum, the last decade has been a stronger emphasis around employer engagement and what that looks like and how they engage with our college, the value that they bring. And in thinking about that and knowing what our system is and how we function, what would you say are some of the barriers to that employer engagement?


00:09:01 Salvatrice

I mean, I can think about like top five, but I want to be mindful that with our employers that are listening or with our faculty, with our students that are listening, that we, as a system, are constantly trying to address the barriers to employer engagement so that we could be of service or better serve our community. What might you say those barriers are in your perspective?


00:09:22 Dr. Jez

I mean, this is such a critical issue. We're actually releasing a brief that explores this very issue around higher ed and employer engagement and the barriers to engagement. And through our research, we found that the main issues stem from three main misalignments in culture, in structures, and in values.


00:09:40 Dr. Jez

Specifically, in culture, we found differences between employers and higher ed often like the ways of behaving. And that would often sort of foster discord in structures and values. And so, specifically, in structure, is higher ed institutions are not structured really to engage with employers. So, thinking about like, what is the role? Like who should be the person that engages with employers or people? What are those jobs? What do the job responsibilities look like? How do they connect across campus?


00:10:09 Dr. Jez

And then same with employers. And I think the dramatic diversity of types of higher ed institutions and types of employers makes this work even more challenging because there isn't a single structure that works well. Like the community colleges are going to be structured different than the California state university system, than the University of California, than private and small mom and pop, perhaps for profits.


00:10:31 Dr. Jez

And then same with employers; the way that Apple engages with higher ed is going to be very different than the way a local like bookkeeper engages with higher ed, for example. And then that also transitions and connects to their values.


00:10:45 Dr. Jez

So, both sides, we found in our research that both sides were at once unclear about the value of connecting with the other party. And then also, didn't understand the value that the other party had in connecting with themselves, with them. So, higher ed, why should higher ed engage with employers, there was no clear value proposition when we spoke with higher ed interviewees, and likewise for the employers.


00:11:10 Dr. Jez

And then when we asked around for higher ed folks, well, why do you think an employer would want to engage with higher ed? It wasn't clear, and then vice versa. So, we saw in this like the culture, structure, and value as being the key barriers, but we also heard a lot of things that people identified as bright spots in trying to do the work. It seemed like there were a number of things that sort of came out of those three main barriers.


00:11:36 Salvatrice

Curiosity, where was the research conducted?


00:11:38 Dr. Jez

Yeah, so the research was conducted here in California. We aimed to target folks working in higher ed, faculty leaders, administrator staff, students and alumni, and also employers. And we aimed to target high-growth, high-wage industries, but we were also open to a snowball method.


00:11:57 Dr. Jez

So, at the end of interviews, we asked, is there anyone else that you believe we should be speaking to on this issue? If they mentioned someone we would reach out, but it was across California.


00:12:08 Salvatrice

You know, I want to shift gears a little bit. I wanted to talk a little bit about the recent career readiness pilot that was launched. And I believe it's called the Cross-sector Career Readiness pilot. And it was through an investment with ECMC foundation. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how that works within our Los Angeles region or how that affects our Los Angeles region?


00:12:33 Dr. Jez

It's an exciting and innovative pilot that launched out of work that we did with Compton College. And it includes four community colleges in central LA, Compton College, El Camino College, LA Southwest, and South LA, and it also, includes LA County supervisor Holly Mitchell's office.


00:12:50 Dr. Jez

And so, that's why we're calling it this cross-sector. We're trying to sort of center the central LA resident in the work, and think about how do we get this Californian who has a lot more potential that has been reached? How do we get this person the education they need and the resources they need to be successful and be able to deliver not just for themselves and their family, but also, for our state's needs and the region's needs.


00:13:14 Dr. Jez

So, in this partnership, we are pulling the colleges together and they're coming together to work collaboratively to really address those needs and thinking about how do we structure career readiness at the core of these institutions?


00:13:28 Dr. Jez

So, oftentimes, career readiness has been the function of a siloed career center on campus that people see as doing like mock interviews and reviewing resumes. But what we really see as career readiness is a cross-campus, a horizontal function that starts with the higher ed leader, the CEO chancellor president, but it should be connected to every faculty member across departments, communications, external affairs - everything on campus should really have a deep connection to career readiness.


00:13:58 Dr. Jez

And people often ask me, well, what about a student who isn't in a vocational or career education program? You know, nearly every student today says they're going to college because they want a good job at the end of it. Even the student who is studying history and plans to transfer to a liberal arts college, career readiness still matters for them and we should still be thinking about how do we leverage what's happening at the community college to support their transition.


00:14:24 Dr. Jez

We shouldn't wait until the end and it shouldn't just be for students in like occupationally focused programs. So, that's really a core piece of it. And then getting the colleges kind of tends to compete. So, instead of having colleges compete with each other, like how do we have colleges work together to better serve residents? And then the county, a lot of what happens that matters to residents and can support residents is administered by counties and not higher ed.


00:14:48 Dr. Jez

So, how can we connect students to resources like CalWORKs and CalFresh? How can we leverage the workforce development system? Like we owe a funding to support students. How do we sort of optimize it to really support students better? So, that's what we're looking to figure out. And that's what we're going to focus on to support these residents that were really hard hit by the pandemic and were struggling before the pandemic,


00:15:13 Salvatrice

The pilot hasn't necessarily completed. The pilot is still in motion.


00:15:17 Dr. Jez

Yeah, we just launched. So, right now, we are in sort of like this discovery research phase where California Competes researchers is working with the four colleges in LA County to really understand what's going on in their organizations. So, we're doing interviews at each campus to really understand what's going on, where the challenge is, where the opportunity is, who are they partnering with?


00:15:37 Dr. Jez

We analyze their organizational structure, so where does career readiness work currently sit in the institution. We're looking at any sort of like grant applications or RFPs. So, in the community colleges, big sources of funding around this would be outside of their sort of regular funding would be like strong workforce program, adult ed, Perkins.


00:15:59 Dr. Jez

We're also going to be reviewing, they have any like really prominent consultants on campus doing work around this; what are their scopes. Basically trying to really discover what's going on and then to identify what needs to be strengthened to allow this work to happen better. So, we plan to conclude that work towards the end of this year, and then launch the colleges in improvement work - and improvement work with each other.


00:16:24 Salvatrice

Excellent. We at Pasadena City College have taken an innovative approach to career readiness as well. I would be delighted to share that with you around the Freeman Center and even organizationally. I mean, my ears perked when you said really examine organizational structure in order to fulfill career readiness so that our students are properly prepared from the beginning of their journey, regardless of what discipline and field of study.


00:16:52 Salvatrice

And so, I'd be delighted to chat with you more about our model and what we've learned from it too. And so, if you're interested-


00:17:01 Dr. Jez

I love it.


00:17:02 Salvatrice

Dr. Jez, I'd be delighted to share that with you. Listen, I know that California Competes, I've been following the organization for quite some time now, have a lot of respect for your organization. And I also know that there's lots of projects that California Competes works on.


00:17:19 Salvatrice

Anything we should be looking forward to? I know the pilot's a big one. It's almost unfair for me to say, like are there any other projects that are coming down the pipeline that we can look forward to, but are there?


00:17:28 Dr. Jez

Yeah, we have a number of really exciting work that is launching now or will soon be launching. I will talk about a couple of them that connect to this work. So, right now, one big project is really focusing from a system change and a policy level, how do we optimize student access to all those resources I just mentioned with regards to the LA to the career-ready project.


00:17:51 Dr. Jez

So, looking at if you're a college student or a prospective college student, what programs and services, resources are available to college students with the goal to optimize access? You know, I feel like my ultimate vision would be that students could do one application and have automatic eligibility to the breadth of resources that already exist in our state to support their ability to complete college.


00:18:20 Dr. Jez

So, we'll be analyzing, for example, for like CalWORKs and CalFresh, CalEITC, you name it - low-cost broadband access, we'll be analyzing, what are the eligibility requirements? How does one apply? And with the goal to figure out how can we make it so that the process is simpler for students. Because right now, for example, only 22% of eligible college students in California receive CalFresh benefits.


00:18:46 Dr. Jez

So, I feel like our state has done a great job at identifying needs in our state and putting in place programs, but it's really hard for students to get access to it. So, thinking about how do we just like take the burden off the student to figure it out. So, that's one big project that I'm really excited about.


00:19:04 Dr. Jez

Another big project is a partnership with a group called California Attain, which is made up of California Competes, Sacramento state, Shasta College, and a nonprofit called Project Attain, which is an independent community-based nonprofit focused on adult learners. So, we are working together to improve completion and access for Californias with some college, but no degree.


00:19:31 Dr. Jez

So, some research work with this partnership is launching this summer to really understand at a deeper level, why are so many Californians leaving college ahead of completion? What would it take to get them to re-enroll and then what would it take to restructure institutions to promote completion?


00:19:50 Dr. Jez

And the exciting part is we will do this research in partnership with students from this population as co-researchers, and then the higher ed institutions have committed to piloting the recommendations and what we've learned are the barriers and the things that could promote access and completion. So, really excited about that work. We're hoping that what we learn could be a model across the state around the student college degree population.


00:20:15 Dr. Jez

The third exciting piece I wanted to share is related to online education. This is a priority of California Competes because we have seen and learned that for adult learners in California and for adults that we need to go to higher ed, there is a strong preference for exclusively online programs.


00:20:35 Dr. Jez

And so, right now, online programs in California tend to deliver pretty inequitable outcomes. So, we believe California needs to meet this moment head on, think about how do we deliver high-quality online programs that could grow access to higher education and ideally, close equity gaps.


00:20:54 Dr. Jez

And so, we are launching an initiative to develop a statewide strategy for a more equitable quality online education system. And so, we're planning to do this through a series of convenings, and there's a lot of good work going on in the state already. So, it's sort of like how do we spark that good work into a statewide strategy?


00:21:11 Dr. Jez

So, I do want to put out a call. So, if you are leading, if anyone listening to this podcast is leading an equity-driven initiative around online education, I would love to hear about it. Please reach out, but that's what we want to do is make it more intentional and statewide


00:21:26 Salvatrice

So, much great stuff. Thank you for putting that out there to our listeners. If there is anyone who has a model in place and wants to share, please do share it.


00:21:34 Salvatrice

With that said, thank you for including our community colleges as thought leaders to your work; our administration, our faculty. I know that they work really, really hard at delivering and optimizing resources and services to our students. We greatly thank you for looking at us as thought leaders in this space.


00:21:53 Salvatrice

What could be one thing, if you said Salvatrice,, there's one thing that community colleges can do and implement to align workforce - what would that be?


00:22:07 Dr. Jez

Given the diversity and sort of how complex higher education is, and how complex the workforce landscape is, the one thing I think is figuring out ways to get higher ed and workforce leaders together systematically and structurally; get them to engage with each other, and I feel like the rest falls into place.


00:22:30 Dr. Jez

They can design for locally contextually relevant solutions for the population that they're serving, for the economy that they're looking to strengthen or grow. So, it's less of a specific solution, but more setting up the environment for collaboration and aligning their interests in serving the residents and students in their region.


00:22:51 Salvatrice

Thank you. I want to take a moment to acknowledge that this is a future of work podcast. Everything you shared today leads to us preparing the best workforce in the future. And if there was, again, that one thing, that one thing you'd like our listeners to understand about how this topic impacts their future from our conversation today, what would that be?


00:23:16 Dr. Jez

That higher ed is not just needed for a small elite group of jobs anymore. To really have a living wage job, to have a comfortable life, you really need some post-secondary education. I've talked a lot about jobs, but like in the U.S., your job ties to so much.


00:23:34 Dr. Jez

I mean, obviously, sociologists talk about social class, but in the midst of this global pandemic, the relationship between your work and access to healthcare, between your work and access to like retirement benefits; your job is really important for quality of life and prosperity across the board. And those jobs that provide those benefits increasingly need some post-secondary training.


00:24:02 Dr. Jez

Even jobs that have the same title 40 years ago, today, require higher education. So, I think the key is going to college isn't like an elite function today. It is really necessary for probably nearly all workers will need some post-secondary training.


00:24:19 Salvatrice

Thank you for saying that. And that's truly the idea around the podcast, is that we address the opportunities that lie in front of us as well as barriers that we as systems or we as legislators or as groups of individuals need to address as well. And you're right, everyone at this point needs post-secondary education if we truly want the access and the connection to what you've just shared.


00:24:46 Salvatrice

This has been so lovely, Dr. Jez. Thank you so much for the conversation. I foresee more dialogue and I will be sure to reach out to you personally, to talk about some of the things and kind of unpack some of the things that you just shared. And I hope that our listeners do too. What is the best way for our listeners to connect with you that we can enter into the show notes?


00:25:10 Dr. Jez

So, the best way to reach me is via our website, You'll also find the research and work I mentioned there. You can sign up for our newsletter also there, but there's the social media links, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and then you'll find under our staff page my contact information and social media handles as well.


00:25:30 Dr. Jez

You know, one of my favorite parts of this role is listening and hearing about all the good work happening in the state and thinking about how do we make it so that this good work could happen across the state. So, on the sort of like good work side, and then I also love hearing the challenges people are facing, because that really drives the research we do.


00:25:48 Dr. Jez

Our research is built off of the problems that we're hearing from like our friends on the ground. And then I think about, is there research that we could do to help solve this problem for this institution, but then also, how do we change our structures so that it doesn't require Salvatrice to come up with a clever workaround for this, but that someone just doing their job doesn't know that this was ever an issue, it's been solved. Would love if people reached out, I love to hear both problems and cool things happening.


00:26:19 Salvatrice

Well, thank you so much. Look forward to reconnecting and enjoy your vacation. I understand you're on vacation right now, is that true?


00:26:27 Dr. Jez

I am, South Puget Sound in Washington state.


00:26:29 Salvatrice

Enjoy! Thank you for making the time and we will connect soon.


00:26:33 Dr. Jez

Thank you.


00:26:36 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. We'd love to connect with you.


00:26:55 Salvatrice

All of us here at the Future of Work and Pasadena City College wish you safety and wellness.