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Calbright Unveils Four Education Principles to Support California’s “Stranded Workers”

The problem is simple and complicated at once: California has upwardly mobile, 21st century, jobs that need to be filled, and people looking for new careers to better their lives.  

How do you connect the two?

California created Calbright College in 2018 to answer that question - and it’s become even more urgent today.  We’re the first statewide online community college, and our mission is to provide free or low cost skills-based education to the many “stranded workers” in California who are looking for economic opportunities. Now more than ever, unemployed and underemployed Californians need ways to transition into new careers.

Based on information gained from Calbright’s beta cohort and ongoing research and interviews with industry leaders, workers, and economic experts, we have found four key principles about preparing traditionally marginalized adult learners for today’s labor market. 

“Our student population faces different challenges than the typical postsecondary student,” said Calbright president Ajita Talwalker Menon.  “They juggle homeschooling, job loss or reduction in work hours, changes in employment status, housing instability, or caring for family members -- and we are building tailored supports that address their unique needs.” 

These four principles are key to providing that support: 

  1. Cultivating a growth mindset is more important than technical training.

Skills necessary for the job changed frequently. Successful employees had access to training resources and carved out time to gain new skills and stay relevant.

  1.  Leveraging community is critical for both learning and career development.

Successful employees enjoyed near-peer mentorship and participated in communities of practice either physically or digitally. Many leveraged career guidance through their friend circles and were able to easily learn about new trends.  

  1.  Soft skills should be contextualized for the job. 

Both managers and employees stressed the importance of soft skills. People who have a work history already have important skills that can be contextualized and applied to a new industry or job function. 

  1.  If you can use a smartphone - you can work in technology.

Managers and employees highlighted the need to make learning relatable and to help learners feel confident in themselves; they already have a knowledge-base that they could apply to a new field. 

These four high level principles will be the basis of new programs Calbright develops.  Programs can teach a growth mindset, create new communities of practice for students and connect them to existing ones, emphasize career specific soft skills, and contextualize technology in ways that build on existing skills and make industry more approachable.  

Calbright will make all its research and resources available to the entire California Community College system: part of its charter is to serve as a research and development hub in online education, developing best practices and tools that can be used by the entire public college system.  

“It’s important to continue to adjust our design to meet the changing needs of the learners we are focused on--those who the research shows are delaying decisions around postsecondary education resulting from unprecedented personal and financial pressures affecting low-wage workers, women, and communities of color,” Menon said.  “The whole community college system can benefit from this focus.”