Stronger Together: Northern Workforce Partnerships Close Old Skills Gaps, Open New Doors

Business & Community Partners

What do Sears, Siemens, Sysco and Starbucks all have in common? They all start with an “S” – and they all spell success with “CC” at the center.

Thanks to Strong Workforce Program-supported partnerships, the relationship between North Far North community college students and the employers who hire them is tighter than ever. From Intel to Northrop Grumman, Amazon to AT&T, some of the nation’s biggest companies are lending their prestige to career education programs – and getting plenty in return.

“They are really providing a service for our communities and preparing workers for careers,” says Intel AI Education Manager Cristina Ortiz, who has helped coordinate the “AI for Workforce” partnership with Folsom Lake College’s Computer Information Science department since 2019. “Learners can get through [programs] quickly … and they’re right at the top of the hiring pool for having that latest skill.”

From big-name businesses to small-town startups, employer partnerships are the catalyst for career education in the North Far North region. They’re helping innovate industries like automotive tech and AI, while filling critical skills gaps in fields like healthcare, green energy, and public safety. 

These partnerships, molded by the efforts of individual colleges and programs, entail everything from research and data-sharing, internships to on-site instruction, and even direct, sponsored classroom-to-career pathways. It’s a win-win situation for students, who get unprecedented access to workforce experience, and employers, who can customize college programs to cater to a company’s specific labor needs.

“We forge a relationship with our industry partners to not only create training programs that fit their workforce needs but to ensure our citizens have education pathways which land them good jobs,” says Wendy Porter, Director of Employer Partnerships in the North Far North. “The bridge between employers and our community colleges is essential to business and family economic success.”

North Far North colleges have taken the business-boosting ball and run with it, prioritizing direct workforce outcomes and finding novel ways to shore up the regional job skills pipeline. Their innovative thinking is leading to projects like Butte College’s “Reimagined Hiring Event,” which turns the concept of a job fair on its head to create an all-access experience customized to the goals of both student and employer. The successful event depends on buy-in from employers and agencies throughout Butte County, including the City of Chico, Northern CA Regional Land Trust and Chicostart.

“Internship programs and customized hiring events are only a few of the ways we forge mutually beneficial relationships that enrich the employer, the student, and the community,” explains Porter.

Just down the 99, there’s the “AI for Workforce” initiative, which harnesses microchip giant Intel’s enormous resources to cultivate a smarter workforce through content-sharing, faculty training and implementation guidance. Bolstered by Strong Workforce funding, FLC students receive unprecedented access to virtual curriculum in a future-proof industry that’s projected to add 1,100 jobs over the next five years in Greater Sacramento alone.

And while Folsom Lake College’s proximity to Intel’s headquarters may have started the conversation, it was FLC’s commitment to next-level career education that sealed the deal.  

“There’s a big gap right now, and there are not a lot of programs offering AI content,” says Ortiz. “Folsom Lake has been a great partner.”

This workforce-driven philosophy is even spreading to K-12, with North Far North high schools looking for ways to better prepare college- and career-minded graduates for the next level. In the High Sierras, the Plumas Health Exploration Spring Institute (PHESI) is constructing a critical pipeline of future healthcare workers thanks to a first-of-its-kind collaboration between Plumas Charter School and Plumas District Hospital (PDH). Meanwhile, the Roseville Joint Union High School District (RJUHSD) is building a persistent engine for success in automotive technology, due to a demand-driven partnership with Bill McAnally Racing NAPA AutoCare.

“It’s rewarding,” says McAnally, a champion racing team owner and businessman. “It makes me feel better seeing the younger generation interested in the automotive field, and we’re now giving them a place to do that.” 

At times, this active collaboration with colleges can be more than just a cutting-edge corporate hack. Often, it’s a matter of public safety. In wildfire-prone parts of the state struggling to hire firefighters, for example, the capacity for colleges to step up and staff agencies can mean the difference between life and death. Through partnerships with local fire departments and CalFIRE, Lassen College and Mendocino College are among the Northern institutions working to contain this public safety crisis before it becomes unmanageable.

All the agencies are realizing that we can’t keep fighting these large fires,” says Captain Dan Weaver of the Susanville Fire Department. “We’re just trying to help out all the agencies and get firefighters hired.”

Whether it’s extinguishing fires, examining patients, or exchanging pistons, the key to a connected workforce is collaboration. Thanks to their novel and nimble career education programs, Northern colleges are finding themselves in an increasingly better position to meet the evolving demands of their businesses and communities directly. 

“We’re hyper-focusing on what employers really want,” says Dr. Amy Schulz, Dean of Career Continuing and Technical Education at Sierra College. “[We’re] working directly with employers to meet their needs.”

And while there’s no doubt that these big-name workforce partnerships represent an enormous step forward for career readiness in the North Far North, they continue to require plenty of shoe leather. 

“It’s worth the investment because we want people who want to be here and stay,” says Darren Beatty, Chief Operating Officer of workforce partner Plumas District Hospital. “That’s the kind of thing we want to continue to foster here.”

March 2024