Dec 27, 2022
But the issue I think that
compels may be an even more in-depth conversation is to what extent
is that equitable? Do we all have access to being able to work at
home? And so, the digital divide, I think is the bigger issue here
in the conversation about the future of the
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
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
Hi, I'm Salvatrice Cummo, Vice
President of Economic and Workforce Development at Pasadena City
College and host of this podcast.
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.
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.
We believe change happens when
we work together and it all starts with having a conversation. I'm
And I'm Salvatrice Cummo, and
this is the Future of Work.
Hi, this is Christina Barsi, the
Executive Producer of the show. Before we begin today's episode, we
want to wish you happy holidays from all of us at the Future of
Work Podcast. We decided to do something special this season and
share with you our most loved episodes of 2022.
The topics ranged from
discussions on new media with Rob Greenlee, the Vice President of
Partnerships at Libsyn, to postsecondary career programs with
Jennifer Zeisler, the Senior Program Director of Career Readiness
at ECMC Foundation, to tackling workforce inequity with Kome Ajise,
the Executive Director of Southern California Association of
Governments and so much more.
We're so grateful for your
listenership and are pleased to bring you your favorite topics once
again. And if you are new to the show, this mini-series of 2022
favorites is a great place to start. Enjoy!
Hi everyone, and welcome back to
the Future of Work Podcast. I am your host, Salvatrice Cummo.
Today, we'll be talking about the Southern California Association
of Governments and what they are doing to encourage a more
sustainable Southern California.
We will also talk about SCAG's
partnership and how we as a community college can get involved.
With that, we want to welcome Executive Director of the Southern
California Association of Governments, Kome Ajise. Mr. Ajise brings
over three decades of experience in regional planning and
transportation. He has served in his Executive Director role since
2019 and we are lucky to have him here with us today. Kome,
Thank you Salvatrice, glad to be
here. Thanks for having us.
Thank you. Let's dive right on
in if that's okay with you.
Excellent. For our listeners,
can you please share with us what led you in this path of work in
regional planning and transportation, and why it's something that
you continue to work in?
Well, thank you. Great question.
You never know what you're going to end up doing in life as a
career, but you have aspirations. I, growing up always wanted to be
an architect because I have this sense of just being enamored with
spatial references and how the spaces around us are formed and
Didn't quite have enough chops
to get into architectural school, so I became a planner. I think
it's the way the story would go. And I'd worked in planning for the
last couple of decades, mostly on the transportation side. Always
wanted to be a city and regional planner because that's what I have
a graduate degree in.
And the opportunity at SCAG came
along in 2017 to be back to planning. And so, it was really
welcome, grace that I had to be able to come back to planning,
especially in the largest metropolitan region in the entire
country. So, it's been almost like a gift to be back where I really
wanted to be as a professional.
And at the regional planning
level, we are a little bit removed from local planning. At the same
time, we have strong interaction with local planning to conceive of
the vision for a region. So, that continues to sustain my drive and
my passion for wanting to again, see about how our environment is
formed and shaped, and conceived of.
That's great. Thank you so much
for sharing that. And in this work, in this role since 2019, have
there been opportunities where SCAG is partnering with employers or
community colleges in workforce initiatives, programming, really
anything of those matters?
Yeah, we don't directly engage
in workforce training other than our employees. And we again,
strive to be an employer of choice, and so, we focus on that for
However, we are engaged in a
program that's funded by the state. There's a 3.5 million inclusive
economic recovery strategy program that we came up with coming out
of the recession. And we're fortunate to get a grant from the state
And so, we're using that to
engage our economic partners and our local agencies. And
indirectly, there will be some workforce training element in that
strategy in the spending of the 3.5 million over
Now, through our diversity,
equity, and inclusion efforts, we also make sure that we are living
up to the tenants of the policy that adopted on equity. And so, we
try to bring in a diverse group of employees and especially
interns, with respect to colleges.
We have a very inclusive
internship program that affords students around our region to be
able to spend time working with us. We also participate in
fellowships like the CivicSpark Fellowship where we bring in both
current students and recent graduates back to spend a year or two
with us gaining that initial experience before they then find their
way in the profession.
Those two initiatives, the
internship program and the fellowships have been very, very
productive both ways. For us, tremendous amount of work was done,
but we also feel like the participants have gained a lot and all of
them, have gone on to gain full endeavors beyond
Many of them stay with us where
we have openings. So, to answer your question, that's the extent to
which I think we would see ourselves in workforce
That's a lot. It may sound
simple, just one or two things as the internships and the
fellowship, but the mobility that SCAG is offering those
participants in those two capacities is forever within their career
journey. It's not wasted. You've created some significant impact
for those individuals that are able to participate with SCAG within
these two vehicles. So, thank you. Thank you for doing
Yeah, it's just a matter of when
people go to seek employment, the employers are always looking for
experience. And if they never get a chance to work, how would they
get the experience? So, the internship and fellowship programs, I
think they're rich for that.
And when somebody's a fellow
with us for two years postgraduate, that's a strong experience to
take anywhere. And we just had three fellows leave us this last
month. And two of them have gone on to really significant
employment in planning, and I think one's probably pursuing further
education getting their graduate degree.
We feel very blessed to have had
them on because they did work for us. That continues to be
sustained to help us get what we need to get done,
Thank you so much. Are you
finding that maybe perhaps the fellows - are you finding that
they're helping raise awareness around trends, around policy trends
within planning development? Or is that something separate one of
your team members is doing on really seeking the trends around
policy design as it relates to planning and
Oh, absolutely. They are
assigned real work, real and current work. In fact, I think the
three fellows that I just referenced worked on an emerging area of
housing, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). These are relatively new
in concept. This used to be the Granny flats that you would have in
the back of houses and they have now been formalized as a matter of
policy in the state.
And so, the question is how do
they fit in the strategy for increasing housing supply in our
region. And they did some really good work, groundbreaking work for
us in identifying the barriers and constraints and the
opportunities for ADUs, Accessory Dwelling Units in our region. So,
they've left us with that gift. So, they spend a good amount of
their time on it.
And that's really one of the ...
employers should take note of that. That's one of the benefits of
having this young bright mind be given meaty tasks, focus on it,
get you a well-done product, and they leave you with work that
maybe your full staff just wouldn't have time for. Because there's
all the other stuff that's going on in the agency. So, that was a
real benefit and a good example. And we had them presented to our
board last week and it was well-received.
And it was gratifying to see
them accomplish what they did.
And that's really speaking to
Southern California's sustainability and to have them really
develop this product that you can then implement, expand, amplify,
all those good things. To your point, you're right, most
organizations don't have the bandwidth to do everything else that
is needed outside of the daily functions of that
And I wonder, just kind of like
along that same thread, is there room or space for community
colleges to partner with SCAG or if you're seeing other entities
partnering with community colleges that can support the
intentionality of making Southern California more
Oh, absolutely. I'm a fan of
interns coming into an organization, and I say that selfishly
because I started working as an intern with the Department of
Transportation CalTrans many, many years ago. And that led to a
full-time job with CalTrans. And I spent most of my career working
So, coming in as an intern, one,
it's really helping the prospective employee at the time as an
intern understand what that agency is; if it's a good fit for them
or otherwise, they get some experience to go somewhere else that's
a good fit.
So, at SCAG, we are available.
Not just we would be - we're available to work with colleges. One
of the things to note in our region is we're rich with higher
education population. And there's just a really deep talent pool in
our region. So, we always look to bring those talents to our
organization to the extent that they're interested in the mission
Fantastic. And just to switch
gears a little bit related, kind of unrelated - SCAG; what could we
look forward to in the near future? Are there any new projects that
you and your team are working on that you'd like to bring to light
or share with us today?
There are a lot of things going
on. We have a very dynamic region. You know, our region is what,
the 16th largest economy in the world if it were a country by
itself. So, if you stop to think about 193 or so countries in the
world, if you take their economies, we would fit right there in the
top 20 just for the sixth County area. So, it's a very vibrant
economic region, probably the most vibrant in the
So, we have this need to
continue to maintain that vitality economically. But on top of
that, under the adage of walking and chewing gum at the same time,
while we are so focused on the vitality, we must also not forget
what makes this region attractive to people. It's the environment.
And so, preserving that environment, it's not an either or, it's
and, it's both.
So, our work is really vitally
engaged in making those connections between assuring that we
maintain our economic vitality, but also, maintain our
environmental consciousness while at the same time, making sure it
works for everybody. So, that equity overlay that we've been
talking about over the last couple of years, more so becomes very
So, to your question about what
are the things we're working on, there are just a number of things.
One is having come out of the racial reckoning that we had over the
last couple of years and strongly making a statement by a board on
equity, we're guided very, very much so on ensuring that there's an
equity lens across the programs that we operate.
And so, that's one major
initiative where we're always focused on making sure that what
we're doing affects everybody equally and also, bring capacities
and opportunities to everybody equally.
So, on that note, one major
initiative we just launched in February is the Regional Data
Platform. One of the assets we have at SCAG (at the Southern
California Association of Governments, we always call ourselves
SCAG) is the Regional Data Platform, the RDP.
What that is, is we are a
repository of a lot of data. So, it takes this data that is about
each one of our member agencies, the cities, the 191 cities and six
counties that makeup SCAG.
Each one of them have
characteristics in data that we have. And being able to have that
data available to each city at a very sophisticated tool level
using geographic information systems, a GIS system, such that any
one city can participate at the world-class level in terms of
So, I say that and it doesn't
sound like much, but when you stop to think about the fact that out
of 191 cities, about, I'd say almost 70% of them are a hundred
thousand population or less. So, they're not necessarily the big
cities. That's 70% of them. So, majority of our cities have a
population of a hundred thousand or less, and clearly, about 20% or
so of them are even smaller than that, maybe 20,000
So, these are not communities
that have a lot of resources available to them to be able to play
at the sophisticated level of regional planning and even local
planning with the tools that the RDP brings to them. So, being able
to launch the RDP was a very major initiative for
And so, it allows each one of
our cities to have access, and that that goes to equity when all
cities have access to the same tools to be able to do the same
level of GIS work, to be able to have data-driven decision-making
available to their policymakers because the RDP affords them
But also, the RDP affords us to
engage our communities. So, it gives them the capacity to do civic
engagement through the same tool where everybody's online now, but
you need that capacity to be able to engage folks online. So,
through the RDP we have that.
And then also, finally, have the
planners in each one of those cities have access to capacities that
are only available to maybe the richest of communities. So, that's
a major initiative that we just launched and it's getting
In fact, we were given an award
on Monday by Esri at the International User Conference, which was
attended by 14,000 people. The award was Making a Difference Award
and we were really proud to have been there to accept that with our
Board President, Jan Harnik from Palm Desert. That's one big
initiative that I could put out to respond to your
Thank you very much. Is there
any dialogue or conversation within planning and development, and
this may not be appropriate for SCAG or something that SCAG has a
pulse on, but I feel like all the cities right now are preparing
for the Olympics in 2028. Everyone's getting like really excited
What role does SCAG play in
that? Is there anything happening within the respective
preparations for that? Is that an appropriate question or
It is. We stand ready to be part
of a more in-depth discussion about how we plan for the Olympics.
We've had some conversations with principals in it. Obviously,
we're not going to be at the center of it, but I think we have
capacities and a road to bring to the conversation given that we
cover the region.
And the Olympics is not going to
be centered in one city, it's going to be across the region, if not
different parts of the state for that matter, in terms of events,
and how do you get to and from those events is a major mobility
issue that I think is right in our wheelhouse.
We are on notice to participate.
I think there are some discussions going on that we have been part
of, but we're not going to drive it at this point is what I'm
saying. So, yeah, we're relevant to the conversation and will
continue to be available to be part of the conversation, but I
think it's ramping up now. You'll probably see more of our role in
it over time.
Right. Thank you for sharing
that. I imagine that there's going to be some projects and momentum
and activities coming out of SCAG in preparations for just given
just the natural/genetic makeup of SCAG and its purpose and
intention within our area.
Yeah. We're excited about just
the notion of the Olympics coming in the first
That's right. It is
We're going to bring our
capacities to the table to make sure it's
That's right. This is the Future
of Work Podcast and if there is one thing you want our listener to
understand about this topic and how it impacts their future, what
might that be?
The one thing that's where it
makes the question really hard because it's not one
Well you could sprinkle in some
bonuses, you know.
I think one of the things to
note, and this is not going to be breaking news for anybody, is
that more of us are working from home. Before COVID, we had
anticipated that the population, the workforce that would work from
home would be in sub 10% essentially. And maybe might grow to about
We're noting that that's
obviously changed. We were a hundred percent working from home for
those who were office-bound before COVID. There's still a lot of
employment that is in-person. Obviously, if you work in the
hospital, if you work in the shipyard or factory, it's
So, when you break the
employment categories down, I think there is about 45% or so
positions that have the potential to work from home. So, when you
then break that down, I think we had assumed that there will be ...
a hundred percent of those people would work from
But more and more, I'm in the
office and we're getting back in the office. I think that number is
probably in the sub-20%. So, we will see that. But the issue I
think that compels maybe an even more in-depth conversation is to
what extent is that equitable?
Do we all have access to being
able to work at home? And so, the digital divide, I think is the
bigger issue here in the conversation about the future of the
We have a saying here at SCAG,
and I picked this up from my team who had been working on this
concept of work at SCAG, where we're operating a hybrid work
environment now. It was a very thoughtful process by our staff to
And we say work is not where we
go but what we do. And when you start to think of work in terms of
what you do, not where you go, then the concept of the future of
work begins to be so wide open because then work, can be done from
And the question is what
facilitates that? And obviously, access to high-speed internet is
key to that. And then question is how many people do have access to
high-speed internet? So, we begin to think about how do we close
that digital divide so that more people have the opportunity to
make the choice of where they want to work.
And so, it then implicates this
whole conversation that we've been having about the great
resignation that we're seeing. I think over time, it's evolving
from where it's more of a contemplation where people are now
rethinking what exactly they want to do. And that features into
what employers offer what they want to do.
And so, there's that mobility in
the economy as a result that's creating a lot of shift to where
people that really want to work from home for various many reasons
are looking for those opportunities and not being
So, in terms of the future of
work, I think the digital divide is a key player in there. And
obviously, mobility is important because that's one of our key
areas of interest; how we move becomes very important as well. Many
of our young folks are not necessarily bound by the
We live in a region where we are
noted for our highways, but by all means, we know the future of
work requires us to be a little bit more diversified in how we
move. So, the notion of mobility as a service, being able to not
necessarily own a car, but if you need a car, you have access to
it. But having choice to be able to take transit or scooter or one
of the small micro-mobility options available to you, that choice
also begins to affect the concept of work into the
So, when you look at our
regional planning, we are focused on exactly that; creating choice
for folks in terms of how they move. You could have a car. But you
don't have to drive your car all the time, especially if you have a
choice to take the train.
The Metrolink system is one of
the gems of our region to commuter rail system. Before COVID, it
was doing really well. Because of COVID and mostly commuters, the
ridership dropped. But what's really key to what Metrolink offers
is most people that took Metrolink actually have cars, but it was
the choice that was afforded them allowed them to take it to
And so, Metrolink beginning to
adjust to making that same choice available to non-commuters such
that we have that choice across the hours of the day as opposed to
just in the morning commute and the evening
So, those are the things that
are implicit to the future of work, is what kind of mobility of
choices we have, and what kind of access do we have to work in
terms of high-speed internet.
Mobility and access. I mean that
in itself is one hour-long topic. It's complex to say the least,
not unreasonable and not unachievable. It is achievable. It just
takes system alignment.
It takes intentionality, it
takes really good study, and bringing good data and good
information to bear on decision-making such that we make the right
That's right. Thank you very,
very much. This has been just a lovely conversation. I know that
you're incredibly busy. I follow the work of SCAG so I know exactly
what's going on, but thank you so-so much for offering your time
and your talent and your domain expertise with us. And if there's a
way that our listener would like to connect, what is the best way
to connect with you?
I think the best place is to go
to our website at scag.ca.gov. There's a wealth of information on
there and of course, you'll find my contact on there as well. I can
be reached easily through the website.
Fantastic. We'll be sure to put
that in the show notes. Thank you very much, Kome, and you have a
Absolutely. Thank you
Salvatrice. You have a wonderful day too.
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