Preparing the Workforce of the Future by Doing What Matters

Published jul. 24, 2017

By Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor for workforce and economic development of the California Community Colleges

Today’s job market is tough for the average college-educated American—but for someone without skills, it can be nearly impossible. And if we look to the future—with artificial intelligence and technologies beyond our current imagination poised to alter the workforce landscape—the challenge to remain marketable can be daunting for even the most experienced trade worker.

Higher education is the stop-gap to thriving in the rapidly changing job market, with students looking to institutions to gain career skills and employers seeking job-ready workers. The California Community Colleges is actively addressing this need with our Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy framework. Efforts under this groundbreaking framework call on regional networks of colleges, faculty, industry sector professionals, and other partners to develop strong workforce solutions together.

To gauge the program’s progress and get insight into how effectively  we’re intersecting with the future for both our students and their future employers, we commissioned a report from the Institute for the Future (IFTF). The report, Charting New Paths to the Future in the California Community Colleges, reflects how well Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy initiatives are performing against IFTF’s well-researched drivers of innovation in career education and workforce development. We’re pleased to share that IFTF believes that our efforts are moving our educational system in the right direction and empowering students to develop skills necessary to be marketable in the evolving workforce. Examples include transitioning away from:

  • Scattered efforts to solutions networks
  • Episodic education to continuous learning flows 
  • Letter grades to actionable feedback
  • Textbooks to unbounded resources
  • Degrees to dynamic reputations 
  • One-size-fits-all approaches to personalized experiences 
  • Best guesses to algorithmic matching
  • Static environments to digital-physical blends 

Some examples of effective initiatives discussed in IFTF’s report include: 

  • Self Employment Pathways in the Gig Economy, a program launched for a network of 20 colleges to help students succeed in the entrepreneurial world of the “gig economy” and its alternative work options  
  • California Community Colleges CCC Maker, an initiative which connects 35 community colleges to the maker movement, such as building makerspace communities; embedding “making” into curriculum; providing internships; and supporting students to explore, create and connect with opportunities
  • New World of Work 21st Century Skills, a program already adopted at 22 colleges that addresses employers’ concerns about applicants’ lack of “soft skills”—such as adaptability, an analysis or solutions mindset, collaboration, social and diversity awareness, communication, digital fluency, an entrepreneurial mindset, empathy, self-awareness and resilience—for the 21st century. 

In her recent article analyzing the study, Emily DeRuy of the San Jose Mercury News summed up the findings well by noting that, “…schools are making good progress. But the terrain they’re navigating is moving.” Indeed, ongoing, rapid developments in technology coupled with an ever-changing market demand continuous evolution and creativity—these days, standing still can result in setbacks very quickly. And Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy is committed to staying ahead of the curve and empowering our future employees to be prepared for change.

To be sure, the process of moving from status quo to the future of career education is a journey, not a destination—and our work is far from over. The IFTF report is a starting point for us to explore more and deeper intersections with the ever-changing future to ensure that our students and employers are prepared for it and can thrive.



For more insights from Van Ton-Quinlivan, see her Stanford Social Innovation Review article overviewing five successful change management strategies to transform higher education.

 The Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy framework invests in California’s economic growth and global competitiveness through industry-specific partnerships, education, training, and services that contribute to a strong workforce for California