El Camino College’s Career Pathways program builds bridge between training and jobs

Three years ago, Jessica Smith found herself in a state of career transition. She’d always had a mechanical inclination, but knew she didn’t want to work forever as a motorcycle mechanic. So she moved home, enrolled in some classes at El Camino College (ECC) and eventually found her calling, thanks to the college’s Career Advancement Academy (CAA), also known as Career Pathways.

In conversations with a teacher, Smith discovered she could earn college credits and gain technical skills in a short-term job-training program in welding.

Today, she has a part-time job in the field, and works part time at El Camino College teaching and mentoring welding students to prepare them for high-demand job opportunities in Los Angeles County.

“I can’t say enough great things about this program,” said Smith. “It’s not just the welding training I received, but all of the additional support – from gaining skills in resume writing to interviewing – CAA is really committed to helping students learn and find careers.”

CAA programs can be found at community colleges throughout the state – El Camino College specializes in welding and HVAC (air conditioning and refrigeration). All CAA students take classes in groups, work with mentors, receive books and supplies at no cost, and participate in industry tours with access to top-notch speakers and training opportunities.

CAA programs can be completed in eight weeks, with students able to earn four course credits during that time. Beyond the training, applicable math, reading and writing courses are attached to the program, focused on material directly connected to their fields, such as reading manuals or applying math skills on the job. 

“It’s really about creating a pipeline of job-ready applicants,” said Tiffany Miller, ECC’s interim director of Career Pathways. “We see many of our students go on to complete additional community college coursework, but others transition out to find jobs immediately.”

Each cohort accepts 20 to 25 students per semester, with age ranges stretching from 18 to 40-plus. Students are admitted into the program on a first-come, first-serve basis, at a cost of $46 per unit. Fee waivers and financial aid are available to qualifying students.

“We encourage individuals to attend an information session, and from there we guide them through the application process,” said Miller. “Sometimes people think school is not for them, but this program helps them realize this is exactly what they need to get job-ready and gain access to employers seeking qualified workers.”

ECC is now looking to fill its cohorts for welding and HVAC for spring 2016. Information sessions are scheduled throughout November and December. Details can be found online.

“Jobs are available throughout the County, and Career Pathways is a program that really makes the connection from training to hiring,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe. “These trades are extremely important to businesses in our communities, and the skills that students develop will help them long-term. “