Who are California’s “stranded workers”? According to leaders in higher education, they are the state’s 2.5 million working adults who have graduated from high school but have not earned a postsecondary degree or any type of vocational certification.

The more important question, however, is why they are considered “stranded.” Data from California Competes, a nonpartisan research and policy group, show 41% of this racially diverse group are parents; more than half work full time; and 58% earn less than $25,000 annually. In other words, they do not have the financial means, the time or the necessary information to pursue higher education options that could help them break the cycle in which they are trapped.

Today’s high-tech workplace requires advanced training and a new set of skills across all industries. Workers employed in low-wage, entry level jobs have little hope of advancing to the next level in their careers without acquiring additional training and new skills.

COVID-19 has further changed the workplace in sudden and dramatic ways. Jobs once thought accessible only to workers who could commute to and from the workplace each day are now being done entirely online. Other employers are using technologies that combine commuting and working from home. As we emerge from the pandemic, much of the new workplace model will remain, given its convenience, flexibility and cost-saving advantages. And much of it will require new skills.

A recent study by the Strada Education Network indicated that nondegree programs have the highest level of interest among Americans who desire career advancement.  According to Andrew Hanson, director of research for Strada, “…Americans are telling us they’re interested in immediate opportunities to develop their skills.”

Stranded workers need look no further than their local community college to quickly acquire new skills. Citrus College offers skill awards and certificates of achievement in 30 disciplines or programs. The college has also partnered with ED4Career to deliver online career training and certification in a variety of fields. Students can enroll in this program at any time, and courses can be accessed 24/7. New students can tap into counselors, financial aid information and other services at citruscollege.edu.

Extraordinarily difficult times such as these require extraordinary solutions. Community colleges continue to prove they are able to step up quickly and help students across all educational levels find a program that will maximize their employment opportunities and provide a pathway to a better life. 

Professor emeritus at Pasadena City College and former executive director of the Pasadena Education Association, Dr. Edward C. Ortell is the senior governing board member at Citrus College. He has served on the California Community College Trustees (CCCT) state board of directors and 11 terms as president of the Citrus College Board of Trustees.