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Transcript- Episode 81: Readying Students To Enter The Global Workforce, With Stephen Cheung President Of The World Trade Center Los Angeles Episode 81

Oct 25, 2022

00:00:00 Stephen

LA has been and will continue to be at the center of global attention. I think we underestimate the impact that Los Angeles has on the rest of the world. And because of that, we need to step up and we need to be more aggressive and assertive about our position on the global economy.


00:00:16 Stephen

Because when we do, our workers here and our employees here will have opportunities not only in Los Angeles but around the world. But we need to take that place and see ourselves as a global competitor because the rest of the world is already looking there.


00:00:34 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.


00:00:47 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?


00:00:59 Salvatrice

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


00:01:08 Christina

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


00:01:11 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.


00:01:26 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.


00:01:45 Christina

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


00:01:53 Salvatrice

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


00:01:58 Salvatrice

Hi everyone, welcome back to the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo. We are excited to bring you another featured guest of our Future of Work Speaker Series where we learn more about some of our panelists that will be with us at our Future of Work conference this November 8th.


00:02:15 Salvatrice

As a reminder, you can register to attend the conference at no cost by clicking on our link in the show notes. We hope to certainly see you there.


00:02:22 Salvatrice

Specifically, in today's episode, we'll be learning more about the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and the World Trade Center Los Angeles, and what their focus is moving forward. We will also gain some insight into how we can better connect academia with industry to create, certainly, a better pathway for our students.


00:02:41 Salvatrice

With that, we are excited to welcome back, Stephen Cheung, President of World Trade Center Los Angeles, and President of the LAEDC. Welcome back, Stephen, how are you?


00:02:52 Stephen

Thank you so much, Salvatrice for having me back. I'm doing well, thank you.


00:02:55 Salvatrice

This is a super exciting time for you. We're in the same kind of circles, so we get to see each other very, very often. But this is a unique time for LA and we are certainly proud and honored and excited to have you step into the new role of President of LAEDC. And thank you for giving us your time today and also, giving us your time at the conference that's coming up on November 8th.


00:03:18 Stephen

Yeah. Well, thank you for the opportunity. I think it's important for us to start working even more closely together as we're getting ready for recovery from COVID-19. There's just so much that we have to do together as a region.


00:03:28 Salvatrice

Yes, for sure. Last time you were here, we really kind of talked about COVID-19 impacting the businesses' operations and sectors, and that really kind of relied on trade. But at this point, we're kind of in a different place and now, we're thinking about moving forward and moving away from the pandemic.


00:03:45 Salvatrice

How do you think, like just thinking back about what the regions and what the sectors are really facing at the time of COVID-19 in its peak, and now, during this recovery process; what regions do you think have been impacted and that you see a quicker recovery?


00:04:01 Stephen

Well, I don't think there's one single region that has not been impacted by COVID. To reverse that question a little bit, I think what we saw was that over the last two years, we're really triaging. We're really looking at how do we survive the pandemic.


00:04:14 Stephen

Whereas for now, we're able to be a bit more removed from the immediacy of COVID. So, now, we're able to look at long-term growth. The world has changed significantly since two years ago, and our industries and our economy are also adapting very quickly to what this new situation can look like.


00:04:32 Stephen

And with that said, we can't use the same practice and the same models that we had before. And that's why looking in the future and planning for these new industries and their needs, and how do we make sure those opportunities are aligned with our values here in the region, and making sure that equity, making sure that opportunities are provided to the most vulnerable populations and the most underserved population become a key component of our recovery efforts.


00:04:56 Stephen

I think those are the things that on top of mind, and I think industries are also focusing on that as well, because they've seen that you could not have a laissez-fair approach and just allow things to happen without intervention in many ways, and they need additional support.


00:05:10 Stephen

So, I think that this is a very interesting time where you really have a lot of willing players that are going to be getting together. We just don't want to squander that opportunity to be able to create those mechanisms and those pathways forward.


00:05:23 Salvatrice

So, this new era really of conducting business very differently, new industries coming up - not only new industries but new needs; has the work of the LAEDC shifted with connecting academia to industry?


00:05:37 Salvatrice

You know, LAEDC plays a very important role here in the region, specifically for community colleges and helping us connect employers to our students and employers to our academic institutions. And in that space, do you see that changing given the new needs of the industries and industries really conducting business very differently than they did before?


00:05:59 Stephen

Yeah, I do see that there's going to be a bit of a change, a bit of an evolution, a bit of a growth in terms of what those partnerships can look like and what the work will look like. The reason why I say that is as we are in the midst of the pandemic, I think it became more apparent than ever that Los Angeles is really a small business and medium-size business town.


00:06:18 Stephen

What I mean by that is in our research, we found that 92 to 94% of all LA county-based companies have less than 20 employees. So, even though a lot of the jobs that were created are created by large companies, about half of the jobs that are in Los Angeles are supported by small companies and micro enterprises. So, as we're moving in the future, that's not going to change. LA will continue to have a lot of small businesses.


00:06:42 Stephen

How do we now, basically, make sure that those small businesses are able to be part of this entire job training talent development system so that they're not left on their own to create these opportunities? Because if we're solely relying on large companies to provide new jobs, that's just half the solution to half the equation.


00:06:58 Stephen

So, I think this is where we feel that LAEDC's work, especially with the community colleges, will have to evolve to make sure that we are able to encompass all sorts of different jobs that will be coming forth in the future, whether they're large companies, small company, or medium-size companies.


00:07:12 Salvatrice

And are the practices within LAEDC changing a little bit, and how you're engaging with us specifically? I know we're really kind of new into this new era of post-pandemic, but is there anything that you can say like, "Look, Salvatrice, we tried this and it really worked and we did this differently?"


00:07:30 Stephen

Yes. The example is, I would say right now, we were given a couple opportunities because of funding opportunities that were available through the federal level and the state level. For example, the economic development administration released a couple grant opportunities and all the regions around the United States are applying for it.


00:07:49 Stephen

But what they're looking for are strategic alliances and long-term strategies so that we can work together as a region to develop these pathways I was talking about earlier. I think most regions, especially in Los Angeles, we have a lot of great individual programs, whether it's workforce development program, whether it's industry cluster development programs, but sometimes we don't do a very good job making sure it's all aligned.


00:08:10 Stephen

And one of the problems is because LA is so big and so huge with 88 cities, with over a hundred incorporated areas, with over 10 million residents, it's not easy for that coordination. And that coordination has to be in place over the long-term.


00:08:24 Stephen

We've seen economic crisis happen over and over again. This is cyclical. The next economic crisis will happen. Do we wait until then to basically start bringing folks together to plan for another recovery plan? Or do we basically get ready now?


00:08:38 Stephen

So, it's kind of like an earthquake preparedness plan. We should have an economic preparedness plan. So, in case anything happens, we're all aligned. I think that's where the opportunities are and that's where we're going to be working a bit differently, that we're really looking at the next 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years, so that that relationship between LAEDC and the community colleges will be long-term.


00:08:59 Stephen

And basically, we can continue to grow on some of the things that we've worked on before, some of the reports that we built on before - how do we take that information and turn it into a full pathway?


00:09:08 Stephen

I think that's going to be the focus of what LAEDC would like to see happen, because those opportunities that were provided by the Economic Development Administration and now, also through the state of California, through something called the Community Economic Resilience Fund, $600 million fund available throughout the state of California to create these kind of structures again.


00:09:25 Stephen

So, I think a lot of folks are really looking at that long-term structure and it's giving us the opportunity as a region to align ourselves to make sure that we're able to work together and create these pathways. So, that from an industry standpoint, as the companies are growing into their various sectors, those type of changes and their skill sets needs are immediately available to the community colleges for them to develop their curriculum, which we've been working very closely on that aspect already.


00:09:51 Stephen

But as the economy's changing - I was talking about the small companies, sometimes they have to adjust very quickly. We also have to basically establish those systems.


00:09:58 Stephen

And finally, the last component of this is how do we make sure that we're able to recruit and target the workers in terms of where they are at and what their needs are, so that we can make sure that those displaced workers, whether from COVID or whether from other issues, have the ability to upscale and reskill to enter this entire pathway.


00:10:17 Salvatrice

Right. And through that lens, through your lens of industry and knowing kind of this evolution that we're ... long-term solutions and long-term recovery, what would you say - community colleges, how could we be a solid partner, a more active partner within this long-term development of career pathways and just long-term sustainability of recovery? You're right, it will happen again. So, what could we do?


00:10:46 Stephen

Yeah, community colleges have been fantastic in terms of trying to reach out to the industry partners and the businesses to kind of hear what those changes are so they can create the training system that's necessary.


00:10:55 Stephen

Another thing that's going to be vital is that we've been working very closely to identify the needs of the industry. I think we need to do a much better job in terms of identifying the needs of the talent pool and the people that are entering the community college systems, because I think we're seeing a completely new generation of workers that have different needs and different ways of learning and different ways of working.


00:11:15 Stephen

So, I think this information also needs to be fed back to the industry so they can adjust as well. So, it's not a one-way street. I think community colleges will become that key connector to be able to provide that information because a lot of the industries, they don't have the capacity, nor do they have the resources to dedicate to the outreach to understanding the students and also, the learners.


00:11:35 Stephen

And this is where the community colleges are sitting in a very, very unique situation where they have that information at their fingertips at any point that they want. And having that information will really guide the way that we're going to shape the future of work.


00:11:48 Stephen

Just as an example, we're dealing right now with understanding remote work and working from home. As folks are going back, industry need to basically figure out how do they structure their leases, how do they structure their cubicles and their offices.


00:12:01 Stephen

Without knowing the desires from the workers of the future, some of them might say, "Hey, I want the flexibility. I will work as hard as I can, but the thing is I need the flexibility. So, I don't even need to be in the office space." The companies then can save a lot of rents by not having a large space.


00:12:17 Stephen

But not having that understanding of where the workers are at, it becomes difficult for these companies to have to make that guesswork. So, it becomes the entire feedback loop that will be very important. And the community colleges, again, is vital to that feedback loop.


00:12:31 Salvatrice

Do you feel like that's a space that we should be allocating resources to as it relates to future work? You know, we talk a lot about industry needs, but we very rarely talk about (and I'm really glad you said it) the employee needs.


00:12:43 Stephen



00:12:44 Salvatrice

This is like actually, quite frankly, the first time that you and I have talked about, but even in the space of, in academia, we don't talk about employee needs out there, we talk about the employer.


00:12:54 Stephen

That's exactly it.


00:12:54 Salvatrice

So, are you seeing kind of like where we as a community college can be allocating resources to that work for a better understanding or-


00:13:04 Stephen

I personally think so. I think this is a very important piece of the conversation because once the community colleges are able to collect those voices, but it's also about the data. Because having an individual anecdotal story is not enough.


00:13:15 Stephen

And the reach and the size of the impact that the community colleges collectively can have is going to be very important. And the second thing that I think the community colleges bring to the table as well is the regionalization and the focus on the areas.


00:13:27 Stephen

This is also going to contribute to the decision-making process when it comes to commuting patterns. That's going to change. You know, as we're looking at recovery from COVID, folks, some of them have moved out of the region. Some of them have decided to be closer to transit orient design locations where they're going to be in higher-density buildings that have access to rail as we're investing more in rail.


00:13:47 Stephen

So, these are all important decision-making processes and information that the industry will need. And if the community colleges are able to get that information and allocate resources to really help aggregate some of the voices, it becomes a very powerful tool and a very powerful resource, not only for the industry but for the entire region.


00:14:06 Stephen

Because I don't think we've had really good data about the employees, their needs, their desires, and basically, what their pattern's going to look like. Because right now, we've seen a lot of companies are struggling with hiring. And so, they need to adjust to the needs of the employees. Otherwise, they're just going to have vacant jobs that no one's going to want to work for and they're not going to know how to continue to grow their business.


00:14:26 Salvatrice

And this is perfect timing for us as a regional consortium, the LA Regional Consortium, to work with LAEDC on that kind of collecting that data. I'd be very, very interested in collecting the voices of the employees of our region of LA county. So, let's put a pin in that, Stephen, because that's important work. And imagine having both, to your point, having those two resources, two data points.


00:14:50 Stephen

I'll finish that thought in terms of, it goes all the way back to this long-term strategy that's going to be in place. We've had individual components of industry work; how do we partner with the industry in terms of reaching the learners.


00:15:02 Stephen

But we haven't collectively as a region have that entire pathway, that strategy lined up. So, we can clearly see as a region, as these industries are continuing to grow, here are all the pieces. And so, as a region, we can collectively get the information altogether at once and make a collective decision with all the best data that's available.


00:15:21 Stephen

Right now, in order for us to do anything, we have to create an ad hoc kind of project to get a portion of that data. And that data is only at that period, in that moment in time. And so, you don't have a longitudinal study that allows us to basically look at the evolution and really look at the data in the way that helps us make long-term decisions.


00:15:38 Stephen

Because things will change moment to moment. But if you have LAEDC and the community colleges collectively become that custodian of information data, then it becomes so much more powerful for this region to be able to rely on these two institutions to be able to provide that solid understanding. So, we're not just guessing, we actually have information to base our decisions on.


00:15:58 Salvatrice

Right. And that is really the epitome of preparation, the epitome of preparing our students for the workforce. These students that we have now, future students that we'll have, and the current employees as our students. So, you're absolutely right, and I'm very, very excited about it.


00:16:15 Salvatrice

So, let's circle back to that because I think there's a ton of work that can be done as a regional consortium and with LAEDC.


00:16:21 Salvatrice

I want to shift gears just a little bit, Stephen, because you're in a new role as President of LAEDC, and everyone's very, very excited about that. Can you share with us your vision, your outlook maybe for the next couple of years? I like to operate in like one to three-year increments, so tell us what that might look like for you.


00:16:42 Stephen

So, we are the same way. We're actually looking at a three-year strategy in terms of being able to be flexible because not just LA but around the world, the long-term plans you should have in place, but you have to be flexible. And that's what we're seeing.


00:16:54 Stephen

So, for us, as I'm entering this new role, the goals and the vision that we're bringing along is really about how do we maximize on the resources that are available to grow the types of industries that are going to be most impactful to our communities, and how do we make sure those opportunities are available to the underserved communities that that's been left behind.


00:17:14 Stephen

Because we've seen that if we just basically grow without support, we've seen that the dichotomy of our economy, bifurcation of our income stratus. So, that creates a region and economy that's not healthy, and eventually, it's going to come back to haunt us.


00:17:30 Stephen

So, with that said, in terms of specifically how we're going to achieve those goals, it's really to make sure that we have the ability to deliver on the five-prong strategy for LAEDC.


00:17:39 Stephen

The first prong is about our macroeconomic research. We really need to, as we're talking about earlier, understand and really do data analysis to look at the trends that are happening; what these macroeconomic trends around the world, how that impacts Los Angeles in particular.


00:17:54 Stephen

And with that data, start guiding the industries that we want to focus on that's going to create the best jobs, the highest-paying jobs, the most sustainable and stable career path, and those that will provide pathways for the underserved community.


00:18:07 Stephen

So, that number one aspect of the macroeconomic research will help us then identify the industries that we're going to focus on. In the past, we've studied that, for example, the bioscience life industry are going to be important to this region, is because of the enormous growth potential and also, the wage impact it has on employees.


00:18:25 Stephen

And it's not just going to be for folks with PhDs and master's degree because over 60% of those jobs within the bioscience sectors, you don't require a college degree. And these are good jobs are going to be available for us. So, having that information, now, we're able to focus on the industry. What we want to do, our second-prong approach is to grow those industry and have an industry cluster development focus so that we can double down on making sure those ecosystem continues to grow.


00:18:49 Stephen

What policies are necessary in order for those industry to be successful, what programs are available, what advocacy is needed for those industry to continue to thrive. So, that's our second prong; utilizing researcher guidance. We're going to develop our industry and grow those ecosystem.


00:19:03 Stephen

But you can see how once we have that industry cluster, that group, those councils that we're going to be creating to guide that process, we want to create a three-year blueprint. Where are we now here in 2022? Where do we want to go in three years? Where do we want to go in 10 years, so that we have a pathway forward.


00:19:19 Stephen

So, that blueprint will basically guide our next two-prong approach, which is our business attraction, retention growth strategy. Because we need to make sure that we're able to continue to help these companies grow within these sectors.


00:19:30 Stephen

What technical assistance do they need? How do we work with the governments around LA county to provide those assistance just so that these companies can continue not to survive, but really, to thrive.


00:19:40 Stephen

And that's a third-prong approach, which is a business attraction, retention growth. And you can see that it leads to our fourth strategy, which is international. We see that international foreign direct investment is going to be a huge part of our recovery.


00:19:51 Stephen

A lot of companies, when they mature, they will leave this region, but we have very strong competitive advantage here in Los Angeles region where a lot of international companies want to locate here and create amazing jobs for this region. So, this is an international strategy of business attraction, retention, and growth as well.


00:20:07 Stephen

And finally, all of that is supported by a workforce development and talent development. Because if you don't have the talent pool and the employees, these industries will not be able to grow. So, continuing the work that we've been talking about, partnering with the community colleges, the CSU5s, and universities, to make sure that we have the talent pool necessary to grow the sector, to help these companies to be able to identify the talent pool to really help them be successful.


00:20:30 Stephen

That five-prong approach is going to be our next three-year focus strategy. And we want to use data to identify what those industry focus areas are. But at the same time, we've already been doing research for quite a few years, so we know in general, some of those target industries that we want to focus already, but we just want to make sure that as we're getting out of COVID - the world is changing so quickly, we want to make sure we have the most up-to-date information and identify the best potential for Los Angeles.


00:20:56 Salvatrice

Excellent. That is very, very exciting and I can't wait to learn more and to see more about how this evolves in the next year or so. And that's intense. It's intense, but it's necessary. It's absolutely necessary if we're really being honest with ourselves, and truly being honest about long-term solution-based recovery.


00:21:16 Salvatrice

And so, I'm absolutely thrilled about it. I really, really appreciate you sharing that with me. And I know that more will be shared at our Future of Work conference coming up as you're a panelist there. So, I really look forward to that.


00:21:27 Salvatrice

You know, I'd like to close this session and ask an important question that I ask everyone who's on the show, which is, if there was one thing that you would like our audience to understand about the future of work and what we're going to need to do to get there, what would that be?


00:21:42 Stephen

I think for folks looking at the future of work, is that LA has been and will continue to be at the center of global attention. I think we underestimate the impact that Los Angeles has on the rest of the world. And because of that, we need to step up and we need to be more aggressive and assertive about our position on the global economy.


00:22:04 Stephen

Because when we do, our workers here and our employees here will have opportunities not only in Los Angeles but around the world, but we need to take that place and see ourselves as a global competitor because the rest of the world is already looking there.


00:22:18 Stephen

So, I think having that understanding shift the way that we're going to shape our programs, because we're not going to be so insular with our approach, but we see that by growing our employees, by growing our employers, by growing our industries, we're now able to reach a much, much bigger market.


00:22:33 Stephen

And so, prosperity and those opportunities will be a lot more accessible and you also have a lot more opportunities rather than just basically focusing on the 10.2 million population that's here; we're talking about billions of residents and buyers and customers that we can work with.


00:22:48 Stephen

And I think the exciting thing, having the opportunity to also work for the World Trade Center Los Angeles, is to see the international approach. And I wish that those opportunities are provided to all future workers. We have so many talented individuals here in Los Angeles, I just wish that they can see some of the things I've seen and how they look at Angelinos and how they envy Los Angeles in many ways.


00:23:09 Stephen

But at the same time, they respect the folks that are coming out of this region. So, that's the future for us, and I think we just need to seize those opportunities.


00:23:17 Salvatrice

Excellent. What a beautiful way to sunset this conversation, Stephen. Thank you very, very much. We really look forward to seeing you again on November 8th. If our audience members want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to connect?


00:23:28 Stephen

They can go to our website,, and they can find all our contact information on the staff directory, and they can reach me directly there. My email is just Please feel free to reach me directly. I usually get back to them within a few days.


00:23:42 Salvatrice

Very good. Thank you so much. We'll have those in the show notes. Thanks again, Stephen. Have a beautiful day, and we'll see you soon.


00:23:47 Stephen

Thank you, Salvatrice, I appreciate it.


00:23:49 Salvatrice

Thank you.


00:23:50 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.


00:24:01 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.