Is free career technical training available? Yes, at least in California. I was recently given a tour of the San Diego Continuing Education headquarters facility by Dean Jane Signaigo-Cox and Vice President Brian Ellison. Continuing Education is the new name for what we used to call Adult Education where you could go back to school to get your high school diploma or take enrichment classes in art, cooking, foreign languages, sewing, etc.

While these types of classes are still being offered to adults over the age of 18, it is now possible to get technical job training and even certification in a variety of careers, such as automotive, computers, electronics, graphics, upholstery, pipe fitting, and welding. Unbelievably, these classes are free in California.

In 2006, then Governor Schwarzenegger identified workforce skills development, referred to as Career Technical Education (CTE), as a state priority. The passage of an education bond provided $500 million for CTE initially, and subsequent budgets have continued to fund the program. The plan was approved by the California State Board of Education on March 12, 2008 and approved by the U.S. Department of Education on July 1. CTE is delivered primarily through K-12 schools, adult-education programs, and community-college programs. CTE programs are closely linked with those of workforce and economic development agencies and industry and rely on the participation of community-based organizations. The programs are as follows:

California K-12/Adult Programs

  • Elementary school awareness and middle school introductory CTE programs.
  • High school CTE, offered through 1,165 high schools in single courses, in course sequences or through over 300 integrated “learning communities.”
  • Career pathways and programs through 74 regional occupational centers and programs.
  • Adult education offered through 361 adult schools and more than 1,000 sites.
  • Apprenticeship offered through more than 200 apprenticeship program and adult schools

The Continuing Education Center I visited is under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Community College District, but all of the California Community Colleges throughout the county and state offer the following programs.

  • Occupational programs at 109 colleges, leading to certificates, associate degrees, and transfers to four-year universities.
  • Noncredit instruction for short-term CTE programs offered by 58 colleges.
  • More than 160 apprenticeship programs at 39 colleges.
  • Middle College High Schools (13) and Early College High Schools (19).
  • Tech Prep programs delivered through 80 Tech Prep consortia, comprising 109 colleges and their feeder high schools.
  • Contract education provided to organizations for their employees.

San Diego’s Continuing Education program has been making history since 1914, when it started providing job training for returning military veterans from WWI. Year after year, more than 74,000 students are served annually by the seven Continuing Education campuses and many offsite community locations throughout the city of San Diego.In 2013, more than 3,600 students received Certificates of Completion for programs through San Diego Continuing Education (accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the highest level of accreditation a California school or college can receive.)

According to Jane Signaigo-Cox, who oversees many of these career technical programs, “more than 1800 of the certificates awarded were for these Career Technical Education job training programs. Since students spend an average of 65 to 70% of course time using hands on tools and technology to learn relevant skills for today’s jobs, they are prepared for an entry level position in their field after completing these courses.”

The Little Hoover commission, a non-partisan legislative agency, named San Diego Continuing Education as a top model program for efficiency and effectiveness in California. The Commission produced an in-depth, well-documented report, “Serving Students, Serving California: Updating the California Community Colleges to Meet Evolving Demands.” The report was presented to the California governor and legislature and includes several recommendations that suggest how programs could and should function in today’s world.

San Diego’s Continuing Education is the largest adult educational institute of its kind in the nation and has been invited to join 45 academic institutions in the Global Corporate College Network. The Global Corporate College was founded by leaders of entrepreneurial colleges and universities and leverages the best learning industry practices with the resources of accredited academic institutions. The organization is committed to helping employers realize the full potential of their workforce by providing training opportunities for corporations and organizations throughout the U. S. and Europe and currently services 17 industry sectors. In San Diego, this type of contract education is provided through the Employee Training Institute, which offers online training, classroom training, and on-the-job-site training for a fee. Hundreds of customized training options are available to San Diego businesses. Contact the Director of ETI at 619-388-1282 to learn more.