By Jon Wollenhaupt
Victor Valley College is located in Victorville, California, a city of nearly 116,000 residents that sits at an elevation of 2,726′—the highest point between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The college has a long-standing reputation for providing high-quality education to residents and for serving the employee training needs of industry in the western Mojave Desert region of San Bernardino County.
According to the local Chamber of Commerce, the Victor Valley — a subregion of the Inland Empire that includes the cities of Victorville, Hesperia, Apple Valley and Adelanto — has grown into a strategic West Coast distribution point for firms like Walmart, TruBlu Logistics, Newell Rubbermaid, Mars Chocolate, Red Bull, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Additionally, Victorville has a cluster of renowned aviation firms, including Pratt & Whitney, Boeing and GE Aviation, that test next-generation jet engines at the Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) located on the northwest edge of the city. SCLA also houses operations for Pacific Aerospace Resources & Technologies, which performs maintenance, repair and overhaul services for Airbus and other leading manufacturers. Pre-COVID-19 growth in the logistics and manufacturing sectors created demand for more jobs than the local talent pool could accommodate.
In 2016, an alliance of Victor Valley manufacturers and area community colleges came together to form the High Desert Manufacturers Council (HDMC). According to Steve Tyrrell, chair of the council and maintenance manager for Mitsubishi Cement Corporation, the focus of the HDMC was to form a strategy to ensure area manufacturers have a pipeline of potential employees that would ensure the viability and sustainability of their operations. Tyrrell stated, “Our first move was to reach out to our local community colleges. I personally reached out to Victor Valley and Barstow Colleges because my company had a long-term relationship with them.”
Frank Castanos, director of Community/Contract Education and Workforce Programs at Victor Valley College (VVC), said, “What we learned during our council meetings was that most of the industrial companies in our region were struggling to keep up with hiring demands for higher skilled positions. The problem they face is a significant skills gap within the local up-and-coming generations and the workforce needs of industry. Because of the shortage many employers noticed that they would occasionally lose workers to other local companies, then struggle to backfill those positions. This is obviously not a long-term fix for the problem. So, at our HDMC meetings we began to talk about how to solve this issue.”
Development of the High Desert Training Center — the Long and Winding Road
Castanos added, “The members of the HDMC came to the consensus that it was necessary to develop a training center that could provide local students and workers with the skills needed by industry here in the high desert.”
Tyrrell spoke of the hurdles they faced leading up to the opening of the High Desert Training Center last August. “Although a location had been determined, funding and college support was still needed for the project. I went and talked to Dr. Walden, superintendent and president of Victor Valley College. He said, ‘All right, this is something we must do.’ We found a great facility out at Southern California Logistics Airport. Through the determined efforts of VVC, which began under then Superintendent/President, Roger Wagner, an agreement was reached with Stirling Development to secure the facility at SCLA with a lease agreement for 10 years at one dollar a year. We then needed to find money to do the tenant improvements, which required close to $2 million. You can’t have a stand-alone facility without having a college connected with it. We approached several potential private sector investors, but they balked at investing in a building that would be run by a community college. VVC stepped up again and got grant money for the renovations and made the improvements. In all, it was a six-year odyssey from conception of the training center to our first cohorts of apprentices from six companies — Church & Dwight, DeVoll Rubber, Exquadrum, General Atomics, Mitsubishi Cement, and Rio Tinto — who received industrial mechanic and electronics training last summer.”
The Collaboration with Chaffey College
Referring to the collaboration with VVC, Dr. Henry Shannon, superintendent and president, Chaffey College, said, “When Dr. Walden asked Chaffey College to help develop the new training center, we wanted to collaborate immediately. VVC had been sending people down the hill to the InTech Center for training, but the traffic on the I-15 made that increasingly impractical. They needed a facility based in their community.”
Dr. Shannon added, “Initially, the High Desert Manufacturing Council was thinking about starting their own training center without a connection to the college. I told them that without Chaffey College’s involvement you’d be missing out on the expertise the college brings in terms of procuring and administering funding, the vast network of subject matter experts they can leverage, and the college’s ability to quickly develop new training curriculum. It’s like the three legs of a stool. You need the industry partners, the college, and the constituents who are getting trained. All those things are important. The synergies that arise from those three groups working together is what makes for success.”
Castanos, speaking highly of the help provided by the InTech Center staff, said, “They have been amazingly helpful to us throughout the long process we’ve been through to get the training center off the ground. For our first cohort, they shared their California Apprenticeship Initiative funds as well as their experienced training instructors. They also helped us identify the equipment we needed to procure for the industrial electrical and mechanical training programs. Sandra Sisco, the director of economic development for the InTech Center, has been there for us since the start.”
The InTech Center Model
The InTech Center opened its doors on March 23, 2016, on the campus of California Steel Industries (CSI) in Fontana, California. The 33,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility quickly grew into its role as a regional training center available to colleges in the Inland Empire.
Two elements that were essential to the development of the InTech Center were a grant from the Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) that funded the renovation of facilities at the CSI campus, and Chaffey College’s long-term relationship with CSI as an employee training services provider.
Dr. Shannon stated, “The launch of the InTech Center represented the first public-private partnership within the California Community Colleges system. Our long-standing partnership with California Steel and the TAACCCT grant funding were the pillars on which InTech was created. Since expiration of that grant, our partnerships with industry have continued to grow. The InTech Center is currently working with approximately 100 industry partners to develop apprenticeship programs that create a pipeline of qualified talent and to deliver customized training that upskills their workers.”
Sisco stated, “We are proud that our industrial electrical and mechanical apprenticeship programs were the first competency-based model to be Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS)–registered and approved by the state. Those programs allow industry to upskill and retrain their workers at an accelerated rate. For the industry partners we work with, it was a natural progression to develop the apprenticeship program because they were already committed to training, they were able to develop a workforce pipeline for open positions, and they are better able to retain their employees. It is this model that we are helping to transfer to the High Desert Training Center.”
Dr. Shannon remarked, “The success of the InTech Center is due to the fact that our staff is committed to working closely with industry to develop training and apprenticeship programs that reflect what is current in industry and what meets their immediate needs. Our staff understand what is required to keep employees skilled and productive. I see that same level of understanding and commitment coming from the staff at VVC.”
Sisco added, “We are now looking to grow the number of apprenticeship occupations offered, starting with Mechatronics—a field that combines elements of machining, information technology, robotics, and electronics. The Mechatronics Technician occupation has grown in demand due to the increase of distribution centers in the Inland Empire, as well as the coronavirus accelerating many employers’ desire to add automation and robotics in their workplaces. This is just one example of how InTech works with industry to meet their needs.”
The Future of the High Desert Training Center
Aerospace company and longtime VVC partner Exquadrum is finalizing the purchase in Q1 of this year for the building located at the Southern California Logistics Airport. The new VVC training center will be co-locating in the building with Exquadrum.
Exquadrum company president Eric Schmidt stated, “We are pleased to be able to provide this space to the VVC in support of the region’s training needs and the potential future expansion of the School of Aviation. Education is vital to the growth of the Mojave River Valley and being able to collaborate with the VVC in vocational education aligns with the values and principles at Exquadrum.”
Dr. Walden spoke of several important next steps: “We have a lot of exciting things in the works. We have started training apprentices. We are talking to Barstow Community College about bringing a diesel mechanic program to the High Desert Training Center. We are also looking at expanding our aviation program here, which currently has 100 students. With our new facilities, we are hoping to double that.”
Dr. Walden added, “The focus of the training center for years to come will be to help students acquire the entry-level skills they need to get into good jobs and promising careers. Additionally, the center will enable us to continue to upskill employees working at regional manufacturing, logistics and aviation firms — organizations that have continuous training needs driven by ever-changing technologies. With this new facility, we have an opportunity to expand our work with our regional employers and to better understand the skill sets they need today and for the future. For these reasons, I am confident that the High Desert Training Center will play a key role in propelling the economy of the region forward.”
For more information about the High Desert Training Center, please contact:
Director, Community/Contract Ed. | Workforce Programs
Victor Valley College
13313 Sabre Boulevard, Suite 2
Victorville, CA 92394
Office: VVC High Desert Training Center
Phone: (760) 245-4271 Ext. 2152Email: Frank.Castanos@vvc.edu
For more information about the Chaffey College InTech Center, please contact:
Director, Economic Development & InTech Center
9400 Cherry Avenue
Fontana, CA 92335
Phone: (909) 652-8484
About the Author
Jon Wollenhaupt is a marketing consultant who writes articles for clients in higher education on topics including employee training and assessment, corporate learning, and workforce development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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