Los Angeles government executive Gregg P. Irish is co-chairing a new initiative to acquaint African Americans with educational opportunities available at California community colleges.
The Career Education African American Advisory Panel will focus on raising awareness in African American communities throughout the state about the range of community college classes that can lead to well-paying jobs.
Irish, the executive director of the L.A.’s Workforce Development Board, will lead the effort with Cassandra H. B. Jennings, president and CEO of the Sacramento Urban League. They, along with the 20 other panel members, will make recommendations to California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley about methods and strategies to attract African American students of all ages.
“If our community is going to survive and be productive, we’re going to have to have access to education and the community college system is one of the best ways [to do that],” explained Irish.
“We (panel members) will come up with recommendations on how to convince the African American community throughout California of the value of attending community colleges.” Some of the major advantages of attending a community college are lower tuition than four-year schools, schools are usually with the community of the student, and the ability to earn an AA degree and/or transfer to a four-year university.
California Community Colleges offer more than 200 career education programs in fields such as advanced manufacturing, information and communication technologies, clean energy, cyber security, health, global trade and logistics, life sciences/biotech, agriculture, and water and environment technologies.
Irish believes training in these fields will prepare students to have careers as well as make a living wage. And preparing workers for positions in the marketplace is Irish’s full-time in his position with the city, where he manages a $70 million job-training budget.
While the goal is to get people ready to meet the employers’ human capital needs, the fact remains that many citizens continue to struggle because they lack the skill levels to perform jobs in the changing economy. Education and training is the main way for people to acquire or upgrade their skills.
“The best bang for your buck is community colleges. They can train you, you get an education, you can prepare for the workforce and you can have a middle class lifestyle,” said Irish.
In addition to promoting career education, Irish suggested that community college staff might reconsider how classes are offered and become “more innovative in terms of making things convenient for folks who have to work or may be part of the working poor.”
Acknowledging that many people have to work to survive, Irish expects the panel may recommend more work-study programs, online studies, courses offered during the day, night and weekends and for shorter periods, instead of years, to obtain degrees and certifications.
“A lot of people are stuck in menial jobs and need higher education to advance. Colleges may have to change and convince people that sitting in a class will add value in terms of salaries and job security,” he noted.
Despite the huge task before him, Irish remains excited about the opportunity to participate on the panel.
“I’m honored to serve as co-chair of the African American Advisory Panel and look forward to working with my colleagues on this important issue,” he said.
“The challenge before us is to raise awareness among African Americans about the benefits of career education and create an atmosphere of encouragement for students who choose community college as their pathway to well-paying jobs and upward social mobility.”