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Redesigning Workforce Programming Online

For San Diego Continuing Education, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just prompt them to launch online instruction but a whole online learning platform: ICOM Academy. This new initiative serves to deliver fully online career education and credentials to California’s working adults in need of upskilling fast. 

An alarming number of Americans remain unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — 16.3 million in July 2020, setting post-Second World War records.

Joblessness remains pervasive throughout California and the rest of the United States, even as states progressively reopen. Employees are not being brought back to work in the same numbers as when they were displaced, nor at a fast enough pace. The shutdown caused by the pandemic was predicted to last for several weeks, but that has extended to months, and for some workers, there is no end in sight. Many industries are unsure when or whether normal operations will return.

There is no single answer to this problem, but there is certainly an answer that makes more financial sense than others: have community colleges throughout the nation providing free training to adults who need to reskill.

Tens of millions of Americans will require short-term intensive career education to keep up with the redeveloping economy and make themselves employable. Only one sector of the public education system delivers fast, free job training that leads to livable wages: adult noncredit education.

San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), one of California’s (and the nation’s) largest providers of noncredit career education aims to reach students with extensive online training. It might have been COVID-19 that prompted every higher education institution across the nation to ramp up online classes, but at SDCE, something far more innovative has launched: ICOM Academy.

ICOM Academy is a digital platform that could potentially house hundreds of adult online career options, as California’s first fully-accredited online noncredit institute. Programs focus on small business entrepreneurship, digital media, information technology, healthcare careers, automotive, and child development.

ICOM Academy will deliver fully online career education certificates to support California’s working adults who need fast, free career training in a flexible learning environment.

ICOM Academy Certificate Programs

  • Small business planning
  • Virtual data center
  • Linux server administration
  • Mobile application development
  • Programming with Python
  • Python for databases
  • Windows system administration
  • Cyber threat and response
  • Cybersecurity analyst
  • Quick Service technician
  • Auto service advisor
  • Childcare provider (pending state approval)
  • Infant care apecialist (pending state approval)
  • Child home care
  • Health Unit Coordinator
  • Project management

SDCE developed a five-year strategic plan to overhaul its infrastructure and introduce a new way of learning to California’s working adult students. ICOM is not intended to be a traditional online learning environment.

Live interaction between faculty and students will make the experience dynamic. A collaborative project-based learning design authentically connects students to one another. ICOM is modernizing workforce development online in a way that no other adult noncredit institution has been able to achieve–and SDCE has developed this synchronous learning online platform by bringing exceptional faculty together to design a new way for working adults to cultivate the skills necessary to their success in today’s uncertain economy.

Our strategic plan is centered on an ambitious charge to develop a state-of-the-art online platform that serves working adults, which has been accelerated due to the pandemic. We anticipate that ICOM Academy will set a new standard for adult online career education and invite any adult student living in California to learn with us.

ICOM Academy will make history by redefining adult online education. While other large platforms offer online instruction, no other platform offers face-to-face, live interaction with faculty and other students in a fully online classroom. Human-to-human relationships matter at ICOM Academy, which explains why SDCE embraces collaborative project-based learning in every career training program offered through ICOM.

To ensure success, students will receive robust supports in a virtual eco-system built to complement the instructional platform.

Since the COVID-19-enforced closure, SDCE has moved all student services online. But the preparation for this transition to remote support began well before the pandemic. SDCE now provides career counseling, exploration and placement services online and has held multiple online job fairs over the past several months. ICOM Academy will connect working adults to promising new employment opportunities.

In 2019, SDCE was named the Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year by the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE). The prestigious honor was given in recognition of SDCE’s groundbreaking innovative culture, including the creation of ICOM Academy. “The award recognizes a college for its significant entrepreneurial achievements in the local communities it serves,” said Rebecca Corbin, Ed.D., President and CEO of NACCE.

Only 2% of community college students are currently enrolled in short-term, noncredit vocational programs. As millions of residents will soon need job training to return to the workplace, this number will skyrocket.

Career training programs have been designed intentionally as intensive, short-term certificates that lead to jobs with livable wages. The Virtual Datacenter program prepares students to install, configure, and manage VMware’s vSphere software-defined data center technologies. Available fully online, students use a mix of hands-on labs; online class meetings with faculty and fellow students; discussions and knowledge checks to gain essential cloud-based system administration skills in demand by many organizations. The Virtual Datacenter program can be completed in 18 weeks and combined with systems administration skills, students could work as computer support specialists earning from $18 up to $41 per hour.

Another ICOM Academy example is the mobile application development program, which can be completed in just twelve weeks. Students participate in the online class seven hours each week for a semester total of 84 hours and learn skills to plan, develop, and publish cross-platform mobile applications. Upon successful completion, students can make apps for Android and iOs, and with additional expertise,  find employment as software or web application developers earning up to $57 per hour.

“The collaborative nature of the instructional design is what makes ICOM Academy different than other online learning,” said Michelle Fischthal, D.B.A., Vice President of Instructional Services at SDCE.  “Learning is elevated with student-to-student interaction, an element often missing from online instruction.” Faculty in the academy confirm the focus on ensuring online live instruction connects students not only to trained instructors but also classmates. Students will be required to work together both outside of and during the class.

Synchronous and collaborative instruction is not something that any other community college educational system has been able to develop across the entire state at zero cost to the student and available to any adult residing in California. Programs are built with open educational resources (OER) or low/zero cost textbook options. SDCE is not only serving historically marginalized students but any and every adult student. ICOM Academy is a one-stop online portal with all the resources a student needs to succeed.

An entire institution is creating and building the infrastructure to support faculty, so adult students can be served through ICOM Academy. SDCE’s goal is to build the best remote instruction in all academic areas. Academic institutions could not have anticipated the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but innovative platforms such as ICOM Academy will help higher educational organizations remain relevant.