Community colleges move to improve training for entertainment, digital jobs

Los Angeles and Orange County area community colleges are starting a push to improve the training they offer for middle-skill jobs in the entertainment and digital industries. 

A new report commissioned by the colleges and released Friday reveals detailed wage and job growth information for Southern California middle skill jobs in entertainment and digital industries. It focuses on jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree and found that each year through 2021 there will be about 2,000 openings for those positions in the entertainment industry. These jobs include sound engineering technicians, producers and directors, and makeup artists

“This report, I think, sends a very strong message to the public of all ages about the opportunities that this industry represents,” said Richard Verches, L.A. director of the Los Angeles Orange County Regional Consortium. “These are great careers, well paying, and they don’t require four-year degrees.”

The consortium of 29 community colleges commissioned the 52-page report as part of an effort to improve and expand current training for these Southern California jobs at the public campuses. It’s part of a larger effort by state elected officials and college leaders to improve the way colleges prepare graduates for jobs as technological changes shift the type of skills employers look for.

Community college leaders said their campuses could provide more affordable training for these jobs.

“We have to remain relevant and competitive… because new technology is introduced almost every six months,” Verches said.

About 1,500 digital industry jobs will open each year through 2021. Those middle skill jobs include film and video editors and production clerks.

The report profiles 14 middle skill occupations and their expected job openings. These include:

Producers and directors

  • Total job openings 2016-2021: 3,180
  • Median hourly wage in LA: $52.68
  • Median hourly wage in OC: $32.07

Production clerks

  • Total job openings 2016-2021: 4,610
  • Median hourly wage in LA: $21.85
  • Median hourly wage in OC: $24.44

Film and video editors

  • Total job openings 2016-2021: 1,070
  • Median hourly wage in LA: $45.92
  • Median hourly wage in OC: $14.56

The report is the first part of a five step process that the consortium expects will lead to changes in class offerings, expansion and improvement of current training.

The consortium of community colleges has partnered with several groups, including the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce, and the L.A. County Economic Development Corporation. The community colleges also reached out to private companies to hear what changes they’d like to see in employee training. Those companies are providing a wake-up call to colleges.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times the curriculum are designed around what is needed today, not really thinking about what’s needed tomorrow,” said Scott Porter, a partner in Ernst & Young LLP’s Advisory Services Group. He advises media and technology companies in Southern California and around the world.

“The half-life of some of that training is quickly diminishing. You may have been good for two years or three years, now it might only be good for six months,” he said.

Most of the community colleges in the consortium already offer some kind of certificate or degree programs to help students land middle skill jobs in entertainment and digital companies.

According to the report, 27 community colleges in Southern California train students for these jobs. The report highlights nine campuses that offer training for entertainment, digital jobs such as the commercial music program at Cerritos College, stage technology and lighting classes at Citrus College, and a TV promo spots program at Santa Monica College.

Some of these programs have been very successful in placing students in middle skill jobs.

“Without it I’d probably still be working at a Boys and Girls Club,” said Jonny Lopez. He’s been an editor of video spots at Warner Brothers for five years. He completed the one-year promo program at Santa Monica College, taught in part by industry professionals.

“What the program really offered was an opportunity to be in the room with these professionals who were not only invested, had volunteered themselves to work with you and those relationships were the ones that got me this position,” Lopez said.

He was raised in South L.A. by a single mother who’d moved here from Mexico and now his job provides him an income that allows him to live in an apartment in Hollywood and have a comfortable life, he said, one that he didn’t imagine he’d have.