I was invited to be on the Industry Community College Collaborate and attended the first meeting exactly three weeks ago.  In the room were industry professionals from EBMUD, Lawrence Livermore Labs, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, biotech companies, the Dean of Science and Math, members of Chabot College faculty, and more.

What a brilliant concept, I thought to myself. Let’s bring industry leaders in and ask them what they need and what they see missing when trying to find candidates to hire. Let’s educate these leaders on what our college currently offers and what our students can do and let them know we are needing more internship/externship opportunities for the students.  The outcome? Bridging the gap between what skills the community businesses need and where to get them.  Many of us talked about having a hard time finding people with critical thinking skills, along with the ability to troubleshoot.  Moreover, finding technical people or engineers with good soft-skills, so they can communicate with non-technical stakeholders and groups, has been very difficult for businesses. It was a great dialogue to discuss this from both ends.

Listening to the stories of student struggles and success that faculty members brought to the meeting reminded me of my own background. I am the product of a struggling single parent.I was raised by my mother and grandmother. My mother made $12,000 a year at best when I was young. There are many years we survived with the help of food stamps and MediCal while I was living with my grandmother and great-grandmother.

Growing up the way I did, I discovered that going to college meant I would carry the burden of how to pay for it and what path to take to be successful myself. Working two part-time jobs, making about $5000/year, along with carrying 12 to 15 units per quarter at Cal Poly… I wouldn’t wish the stress I went through on anybody, but I survived and graduated. I did not have the time or the money to have fun or party during college. I was so worried about making it to the goal line of graduating, and making it before I ran out of money and financial aid. I was also afraid that I would have a hard time getting a job after graduation because I would be judged on the schools I went to and my past experiences. I wanted to stay competitive with my peers who had the means to go to a big name school or focus on school solely without the added pressures of working as well. I wanted to be set up for success.

When a company calls me today to help them build out or revamp their training, no one asks me where I graduated from or what degree I hold. They ask me what my skills are and can I get the job done on time? So don’t let your fears hold you back — the fear that you did not have the right upbringing or college education in the right school or a high enough GPA. What really matters to employers is whether or not you have the skills to do the job not that you went to an Ivy League school and held a 4.0 GPA. I don’t think many students realize this.

If you are a student trying to decide what you want to be when you grow up and what path to take, it can be overwhelming. My advice? Take some of that pressure off of yourself, pick a college major that you will enjoy finishing, and take the time to explore extra classes at a community college to help you find your passion. Community colleges provide a less expensive way to gain the skills necessary while also working to support yourself and providing externship/internship opportunities to further your skills and provide hands on knowledge. Also, work on your personal skills in communication, critical thinking, and professionalism to address that extra edge that businesses are expecting. There is more than one path to being successful, despite setbacks, if you are willing to put in the work.

Leaving this meeting today, I am excited to think about where this collaborative partnership could  lead and how it can help the students successfully get all of the skills they need for jobs /careers they will be qualified to successfully land.  And moreover, I am honored and excited to be a part of this group!  Being the first person to go to college in my family and someone that started at a community college before transferring to Cal Poly SLO, I know I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today without the community college foundation (or safety net) that I received.  And having been on my own, paying my own way, and getting my undergrad done at a community college, was a financial necessity. I hope this collaborative group can help brainstorm and implement ideas to make it easier for the students of today to gain the skills necessary to be hired regardless of their past personal struggles.

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