Two years ago, Vivian Nguyen arrived in California from Vietnam and found work behind a cash register at Home Depot to support her two daughters. Today, the 39-year-old tests devices and helps build circuit boards as an intern for the San Jose chipmaker IntegratedDevice Technology while finishing her general education courses at San Jose City College. Nguyen is the type of local job candidate that Silicon Valley tech companies and the larger business community increasingly are looking for to meet the need for skilled employees and to diversify their workforce. And they’re finding such talent in an overlooked spot — community colleges. Companies either based in Silicon Valley or that have a significant presence here face a shortage of workers and struggle to meet diversity goals. Area community colleges help to solve a number of their problems: more than three-quarters of the student body is 77 percent nonwhite, students get trained in specialized skills, and companies often find graduates with two-year degrees or certificates less expensive to recruit than employees with four-year or advanced degrees.
Advanced manufacturing isn’t the only industry tapping into local community colleges to fill hiring needs. Silicon Valley Bank, Tesla, Pure Storage, the architecture firm Steinberg Hart and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University have all begun partnering with community colleges to either train students or offer internships.
By the numbers
STEM students at 19 community colleges partnering with Silicon Valley Leadership Group.
Bay Area undergraduates who come from community colleges.
Community college student population that’s non-white; 54 percent are women.
“This is potentially going to be a big part of the future of job training and education,” said Greg Waters, the former CEO of IDT. “I think that America needs to rethink its approach to job skill training and education in general.”
IDT specifically tapped in to the program TechNest that San Jose City College offers to give students affordable courses in computer programming, coding, and data science. More important for the company, Waters said IDT is now able to custom-design courses in the skills it needs its workers to have.
“We are redeveloping the programs that existed 30 years ago at the junior colleges,” said Kelli Dutra, the San Jose-based manufacturing director of CobhamAdvanced Electronic Solutions. “But this time when we’re doing it, we’re adding in more advanced manufacturing technology along with the electronics coursework.”
Dutra said that Silicon Valley used to be full of hardware manufacturing jobs, but many of them moved offshore and local training options went away. For the jobs that remained in the Valley, the Baby Boomers who held those advanced manufacturing positions, are retiring — creating openings their companies have to fill.
At Cobham, a global manufacturer of search and navigation equipment that employs 460 people in San Jose, Dutra said 75 percent of the local workforce is expected to retire within the next decade. To replace them, the company needs to hire 25 to 30 workers a year.
“We’re just not seeing the resumés out there. They just don’t exist, so we have to develop the people on our own internally or get them from the colleges,” Dutra said. “We tried to develop them internally — you have an operator with a high school degree, but they don’t have the math and they don’t have any electronics, and we’re just not able to teach them.”
To fill that gap, Cobham has partnered with NextFlex, a public-private manufacturing consortium in San Jose, and a number of companies to train students at Evergreen Valley College. The school offers a two-year AdvancedManufacturing Technology pathway, where students start by taking math classes before moving onto more specialized courses, according to Moni Dickerson, Evergreen’s division dean for business and workforce development.
“The amount of information, of learning, that can occur within a lifespan of that student or that person has accelerated, so… the industries have realized they can no longer wait for four years or six years for students to come out and work for them,” Dickerson said.
The current push to look at community colleges is being advanced by the SiliconValley Leadership Group, the region’s most prominent pro-business group. For the last two years, the organization has made its Community College to Career initiative one of its top priorities.
David Palter, the Leadership Group’s director of higher education and workforce development, is leading the charge, serving as a “matchmaker” between interested companies and community college programs.
Palter said employee retention has been a struggle for Silicon Valley companies. Retention rates of out-of-state recruits to Valley companies are low, Palter has been told, because employees come and live in the Bay Area for a few years before they leave to start a family.
“But community college students have those roots,” Palter said. “They want to stay here, and have somehow figured out housing in some way, so the local retention side is one of our sells to (companies).”
Palter, a former labor historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz, sees the work as nothing short of rebuilding Silicon Valley’s struggling middle class by expanding local access to STEM jobs. In 2016, only 18 percent of Silicon Valley’sSTEM workforce was born in California, down from 20 percent in 2015, according to the Silicon Valley Competitiveness and Innovation Project.
Another analysis of 2016 Census data by the Seattle Times found that 71 percent of IT workers in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area were born outside theUnited States — giving the heart of Silicon Valley by far the largest percentage of foreign-born workers in the technology industry.
“While the Leadership Group and other groups like us continue to advocate for immigration policies that allow Silicon Valley to continue to be the magnet for talent from all over the world, we know that we and our companies and our entire educational ecosystem need to do a better job of developing local talent,” Paltersaid.
While the Leadership Group’s effort to encourage partnerships with community colleges has shown success, some advocates say the Valley’s biggest employers aren’t as interested.
“What we have found is that the large Silicon Valley tech companies work from a global talent pool and don’t feel it’s necessary to work with community colleges,” said Gabriel Hanzel-Sello, program manager at San Francisco-based Growth Sector, which runs the STEM Core Initiative at California community colleges. GrowthSector works with 30 community colleges, about one-third of which are in the BayArea and has placed about 300 students in internships, about half of whom have received offers to stay on as employees.
Hanzel-Sello said that while he’s “in no place” to tell recruiters what to do, he’d venture to say the Valley’s tech giants are missing out on untapped potential. “Every tech company is really focused on equity and inclusion and diversity,” Hanzel-Sello said. “And they’re doing that by recruiting from the same 12 universities… They’re not really doing anything to expand the pipeline or to get those students before they’re already established on the four-year track.”
Some Silicon Valley giants say they are thinking differently about their recruitment and hiring approaches. Google’s public program aimed at bolstering digital skills, Grow With Google, recently extended its online professional certificate in IT support to more than 25 community colleges nationwide, including at the College of Alameda. Google.org, the Mountain View-based company’s philanthropic arm, gave $250,000 grants to Year Up Bay Area, a national nonprofit that supports workforce training programs that offer community college credit, and to Santa Clara County’s training programs at community colleges for students seeking training in development operations and digital advertising.
At Facebook, the Menlo Park-based social media company also partners with YearUp to hire interns in IT and recruiting roles, hosting 306 interns since 2011. Last September, Facebook announced its local talent program, Access, had partnered with Year Up to provide training and internships to another 240 students over the next three years in IT support and project management.
After completing five months of technical and professional skills training, the students are placed into six-month internships in IT and recruiting. Half of the first cohort at Menlo Park found full-time employment at Facebook after completing the program, according to the company.
Tesla, which is based in Palo Alto and has a huge manufacturing facility in Fremont, has expanded its national Student Automotive Technician Program to EvergreenValley College, training students in San Jose to work in its auto service centers.
Other programs are already cropping up. Amazon Web Services this month announced the launch of a certificate in cloud computing to be offered at Cañada, De Anza, Evergreen Valley, Foothill and Las Positas colleges along with the College of San Mateo and City College of San Francisco.
For Greg Waters, the former CEO at Integrated Device Technology, the industry’s interest in community colleges is a welcome development. Since leaving IDT earlier this year, he’s focused his efforts on an organization he founded namedMicrofacturing Institutes.
Waters said Microfacturing Institutes’ approach is to sponsor courses at community colleges, where students would get training in basic coding, data science skills and artificial intelligence and machine learning in order to build Internet of things products and connect them through wireless networking.
After completing a two-year program, Waters said students can expect to find jobs that pay between about $80,000 and $120,000 a year, which he said is “a lot cheaper” than paying an employee with a bachelor’s degree. About 100 students will have taken courses with Microfacturing Institutes by the end of the year, according to Waters.
As for Vivian Nguyen, the San Jose City College student-turned-IDT intern? She hopes to transfer to San Jose State University and become an engineer or data scientist. For now, she takes her 7- and 14-year-old daughters to events at IDT and has enrolled them in coding programs of their own.
“I want to show them that in their future, they can be an engineer in computer science or something,” Nguyen said. “They kind of like it.”