New, Extremely Useful Career Website Puts Regional CTE on the Map

North State Careers Website

When is a website not just a website?

When it can transform regional career technical education, help boost enrollment during a downturn … and strengthen the local talent pipeline at a critical time.

“Just in the North Far North, we have 70,000 unfilled jobs, and people will need to train for them,” says Blaine Smith, Executive Director of the North Far North Regional Consortium. “That’s no small feat.”

Enter the NFNRC’s new North State Careers website to help students plan educational journeys like never before. The site crunches regional labor market and salary information, then matches it to career training at the area’s 15 community colleges, showcasing centralized, easy-to-understand, and accurate data.

“Some of the larger statewide tools will tell you what the state picture is, but that could be misleading for someone living in Siskiyou County, for instance,” says Smith. “I don’t know of any other site that links directly from occupations to programs and has information about available job openings and wages, all in one place.”

Powerfully region specific, the website maps out educational and employment pathways to high-demand careers without needing to relocate to Los Angeles or the Bay Area. It’s a bold way to develop much-needed talent and keep it close to home. Says Smith, “A big motivation was to show the jobs in our 22-county region so our local community members can be trained or retrained and bring more income for their families without leaving the area.”

According to Erin Carter, Implementation Specialist at the nonprofit research and development agency WestEd, the tool is groundbreaking for the region and beyond: “I would argue there really isn’t anything statewide that connects labor market data to educational pipelines in this way.”

The innovative project was sparked in 2020 by a simple question: Since community colleges already leverage labor market data to inform program design, could students use that same information to make decisions about occupations and training? In resulting student surveys and focus groups, the NFN received surprising feedback. Fifty percent of respondents said they wanted to explore that kind of data on a website. An advisory group was formed, hosting thoughtful discussions on how to proceed.

“It was based on lots of conversations and collaboration, and everybody had a seat at the table,” recalls Carter. “We always had good representation across the K-14 spectrum.”

Michelle White, RP Group Senior Researcher, couldn’t agree more: “Meetings also provided an opportunity to share resources, gain outside perspective from subject matter experts, and discuss … the future of this research, including how this work might serve as a pilot for program alignment across the California Community Colleges system.”

The RP Group was crucial in analyzing curriculum data from the Chancellor’s Office to create a blueprint for the site. White says, “This research has strengthened regional coordination to better support workforce planning and economic development efforts while ensuring equitable access and outcomes for students.”

Meanwhile, the region’s Center of Excellence provided the crosswalks and up-to- date labor market information to complement program listings.

“This data can help everyone — parents, students, counselors, and employers — make better-informed career decisions,” says Ebony J. Benzing, Research Manager at the North Far North Center of Excellence for Labor Market Research. She was behind the labor market analysis, projected job growth, and hourly wage information for the region’s 11 industry sectors.

“The website is a wonderful step toward making labor market data visible and accessible for an entire community,” says Benzing. “I’m excited to have been a part of the team that made this website happen.”

The goal was to make the region-specific data welcoming to a broad audience, which meant that the site had to be responsive with a mobile-first design. According to Carter, “Try the website on your phone — It works like a dream.” Meanwhile, the key to a user-friendly experience is accessible information. The site is straightforward, and data is simple to digest, making it easier than ever to navigate the region’s career and educational pathways.

“Sometimes, education isn’t the best organizer of their tools,” admits Smith, who hopes to overcome siloed approaches to regional CTE. “I wanted to take the tools we use as career education administrators and program directors and make them more forward-facing.”

The site plan is iterative, so it will continue to grow to meet the career and educational needs of the region. For example, the website will include employer pages and resources to facilitate collaboration with industry. Instead of combing through 15 individual college websites to find training programs, employers can find critical information at a single location.

“That really helps bring everything into focus for our employer partners,” says Smith. “The website is a tool belt, and we will keep putting more tools in it.”

Phase two of the website officially began in January 2023, with K-14 focus groups collecting feedback on implementation and dissemination strategies, as well as the

next set of priority features. Now that program data has been gathered from the region’s 15 community colleges, goals include updating and centralizing the information from the 300 high schools, especially for college credit programs. And soon, community colleges will have their profile pages to showcase offerings, with the possibility of including adult education programs as well.

More than just an online tool, the website offers a bird’s eye view of the regional talent pipeline and puts community college CTE on the map … literally. Students can use the site’s interactive map to find colleges to continue their education, and the goal is to include high school CTE locations.

“Where can you continue? What kind of job are you going to get? And how much are you going to make? Our website is the only one that can tell you that all at once,” says Carter. “It’s very visually impactful.”

An unanticipated benefit of the website is that now, anyone can clearly see where the educational pipeline is strong and where there are gaps. “We didn’t know that was going to happen,” says Smith, who hopes it will be a rallying call for the whole community. “It’s opened up a whole other conversation.”

The project couldn’t have gotten so far without the outstanding collaboration of the region as well as the San Diego Imperial Counties Community Colleges Regional Consortium, which generously shared its experiences with similar projects. Smith plans to pay that forward by sharing the NFNRC’s successes with the rest of the state.

“Anybody can use what we are doing in the North Far North,” says Smith. “That’s because every person in California should benefit from making an educated, informed decision about their educational journey.”

Ready to give the new site a try? Visit the North State Careers website and keep checking back as more robust tools and data are added regularly.

January 2023