Chances are good you’ve crossed paths with a graduate from Santa Rosa Junior College’s career and technical education programs as you go about your daily life.
Maybe it’s the dental hygienist during a visit to the local dentist. Maybe it’s the firefighter or police officer in your town, or the person servicing your car while it’s in the shop. The role its alumni play in the local economy is enormous, though largely hidden. It’s a crucial cog in the economic growth wheel.
“If we don’t have the workers the companies need, they will have to move or outsource the work,” said Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.
Stone often talks about a “silver tsunami” coming to the county, as one-third of the current workforce will reach 65 years of age in the next decade, and how a high school degree simply won’t cut it in the 21st-century job market, as robotics and artificial intelligence play an increasingly significant role in industry and business.
“To be successful, you will have to have, at some point, post-secondary education,” Stone said.
That’s where SRJC comes in. The college cites statistics that state 65 percent of all jobs in the United States currently require a technical degree and 20 percent require a bachelor’s degree. Also, 50 percent of coveted science, technology, engineering and math jobs do not require a four-year degree, but do require some post-secondary training.
The college has 9,500 full-time students in more than 160 career and technical education (CTE) programs, as they are called now. The modern iteration of vocational education is more likely to orient toward Microsoft than Stanley Black & Decker. It’s most known for its viticulture and enology programs, which are closely affiliated with the 365-acre Shone Farm in Forestville as part of their classroom environment. They have sent scores of graduates into the wine industry as well as the culinary arts, filling positions in hospitality, a main driver of the Sonoma County economy.
Christopher Silva, president and chief executive officer of St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa, noted last month that “just about every winery” in the county has a SRJC grad.
There are other local career-college efforts as well. Empire College in Santa Rosa, a for-profit institution, has a law school as well as a popular nursing program, and Mendocino College in Ukiah has offered new certificate programs tailored to its more rural environment, such as sustainable small farms, landscape practices and nursery production. Sonoma State University also has a few programs, most notably a master’s degree in wine business administration and a human resources certificate program.
But SRJC plays an outsize role. Some 51 percent of its student body is in CTE programs and one-third of those are career changers — an attorney attending the culinary arts program, for instance, or an accountant studying for automotive certification.
The programs include other, smaller sectors, ranging from dietitian technicians to theater stagecraft to drug and alcohol counseling.
They can be short-term certificate courses, such as a 10-week course in phlebotomy, or two-year degree courses, such as its in-demand nursing program, where the waiting list can be up to four years long, said Jerry Miller, the college’s senior dean of career and technical education.