Community College Students Pitch Their Tech Portfolios to Employers
For the past three months, ten LA-area community college students have been building skills in electronics, embedded programming, computer-aided drafting (CAD), and rapid prototyping. The students participate in weekly hands-on courses with Proficia’s instructors, meet one-on-one with technical mentors and career advisors, and complete independent study related to their interests. The participants have been applying their new skills to practical projects. The goal is to build a custom portfolio designed to demonstrate their skills to employers.
Funded by a generous grant from the Coalition for the Economy & Jobs to the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and Proficia, the training and portfolio building are components of their Books & Tools Pilot Program.
In technical and skilled trades programs in Los Angeles, books and tools can actually cost five times as much as tuition at the community college level. In tech, “books and tools” translates to “software and equipment.” Access to cutting-edge software programs and technical equipment is out of reach of many students just when they need to ensure that their skills are up to date and relevant to employer needs. Community colleges may offer students access to certain software, tools, and equipment, but it is often limited to classroom labs accessible only during class hours or to students enrolled in specific programs. Some expensive software programs do not have a free student version.
The Advanced Prototyping Center at the LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) LaKretz Innovation Campus has just the kinds of resources that job seekers need to build or regain relevance and qualify for high-demand middle-skills (community college-level) jobs, like CAD designer and electronics technician. The students worked in the Electronics Lab for the first two months, learning introductory electronics and Arduino programming. Those who already had training in electronics or programming completed more advanced coursework through independent study. The third month was an introduction to Solidworks, a 3D CAD program that is widely used in product prototyping. The students still have another month to go, in which they will be learning to use 3D printers and laser cutters and integrate all their skills.
In addition to doing projects at the Advanced Prototyping Center, some of the students have been working alongside potential employers in their places of business and have completed projects under their guidance. For example, three of the students, Andrew Pilcher, Kyle Kryshak, and Eduardo Pineda have been working with Nicholas Albert from N2 Metalworks in his shop, repairing and commissioning three CNC routers. Their tasks have included troubleshooting the computer interface, researching solutions online, rewiring, fabricating metal parts, and testing.
Among the ten students, several are computer science majors or have taken courses in IT support and security. One has studied electronics. One has studied welding and fabrication, with an interest in product development. Another has a dual background in CNC fabrication and web development. One has experience acting and inventing and wants to go into technical sales. And one is enthusiastic about robotics. Many of the students have decided to specialize initially in learning Solidworks at a more advanced level and then expand their skills from there.
The projects that the students have chosen reflect their backgrounds and interests, but also highlight the program’s theme of the transportation industry. Projects have integrated many modes of transportation: subways, electric bicycles, skateboards, etc. One project, for example, involves security testing the wireless communication between two traffic signals.
The LA Cleantech Incubator is a hub of innovation for the transportation sector, and the LA Coalition has taken an interest in supporting preparation for local-hire initiatives that will accompany Measure M funding allocated to Los Angeles-area transportation infrastructure projects.
The LA Coalition’s Books & Tools Pilot Program is already generating new insights as Proficia works in partnership with LA Cleantech Incubator and other non-profits to design larger-scale programs to prepare middle-skills workers for local hire in technical and middle-skills careers.
Employers are invited to join Proficia’s portfolio Demo Day on Tuesday, January 16, 12:00-1:30, at the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. Students will be giving short pitches describing their projects or skills. Their goal is to land a job now or learn more about how they can continue to refine their resumes for a job after completing community college.
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