By Jim Mayer.

The future of work in the Monterey Bay area is being previewed on Highway 101 near Salinas.

The traffic heading north quickly finds itself on the edge of Silicon Valley, which is why Hartnell College and California State University, Monterey Bay are enlarging the pipeline for mostly Latino students to become computer literate and soft-skill savvy. It is not enough anymore to write code – because the future is being written by creative problem solvers working in teams.

The traffic heading south – up the Salinas Valley – meanders through miles of furrowed fields, green- and red-leafed lettuce and other salad bowl crops. Increasingly, technology is replacing or changing the manual labor jobs long held by mostly immigrant workers. Training holds the potential for those workers to migrate to higher-skilled and better-paying jobs operating advanced farm machinery.

In either direction, community, business and education leaders see both disruption and opportunity on the horizon, and they feel of sense of urgency to be prepared. They shared their optimism and ambitions at a Future of Work MeetUp in Seaside in early April hosted by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership.

“The Strong Workforce Program was a real game-changer,” Monterey Peninsula College Superintendent/President Walt Tribley said of the program enacted in 2016 with active support from the partners in the California Economic Summit.

The funding allowed the college to double the size of its medical assistance program, and recruit more students from underserved neighborhoods – advancing the equity goals of the college and employers. The college also started a cybersecurity program – beginning with a class called ethical hacking.

Gerlinde Brady, the career technical education dean at Cabrillo College in Aptos, said Strong Workforcefunds have been used to create new biotech and community health programs. The college is a partner in NetLab, which allows information technology students to remotely access the equipment they need to be trained for in-demand jobs.

Sherrean Carr, CTE dean at Gavilan College in Gilroy, said dedicated staff are working directly with students to get them into the right program, to complete certificates and to get them internships that can lead to full-time employment in health care, community health and biotechnology.

In addition to the infusion of $200 million a year, the Strong Workforce Program requires colleges to consult with businesses and align programs and curricula with in-demand jobs. Colleges are financially rewarded for increasing student completion and employment.

“We are making progress,” said Van Ton-Quinlivan, executive vice chancellor for workforce and digital futures for the California Community Colleges. “Now what do we need to do to be future ready?”

For students and employers that means greater access to classes and programs. To increase access, Governor Brown has a proposed a 115th statewide Community College that will be entirely online, but much more than just internet-based education. The college will offer competency-based curricula that allow students to progress as they master skills. The college will offer multiple start times throughout the year, and classes will be offered when students want to take them. Students will receive individual and personalized support from staff.

The program—still in design—is intended to reach 2.5 million Californians without much training after high school, people who were often unsuccessful in traditional classrooms, and now have jobs and families and need to fit training into busy and unpredictable lives.

One MeetUp participant pointed out that community colleges themselves are going to be disrupted and they will need to adapt to maintain their relevancy.

College leaders like Tribley acknowledged that reality: “We need to bring the innovation to the colleges.”

Other college leaders saw the need and potential for employers to integrate online learning into the workday.

Wesley Van Camp, general counsel at Tanimura & Antle, a premium produce grower in Salinas, said her firm is interested in partnerships. The company has developed its own training program because classes were not available when its employees were available for training.

“Technology is not going to replace our employees,” Van Camp said. “They have the soft skills. As the jobs require computer literacy, the jobs will become better jobs. We have made a huge investment in our employees. We want to keep the same employees.”

The Monterey Bay MeetUp was part of an extensive outreach effort by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office in coordination with the Califoria Economic Summit to assess the need and potential for education programs and partnerships with employers to increase economic security and upward mobility for all Californians.

Information on future MeetUps is available here.

Originally posted at CA Economy.