California Community colleges give firms an education


Small businesses need all the help they can get to improve their chances for success, especially when it comes to training workers.

Most small outfits don’t have the money, time or expertise to keep employees up to speed on fast-changing technologies or productivity-boosting methods. Even plugging gaps in workers’ basic language and math skills can be a challenge.

Savvy small-business owners know that training is vital to business growth and competitiveness. What many don’t realize is that help can be as close as their local community college.

At Juanita’s Foods in Wilmington, for example, employees at the Mexican food manufacturer are learning how to identify and cut waste in each step it takes to make and deliver the company’s signature menudo stew, among other products.

The training takes place at the company’s sprawling factory, taught by experts from El Camino College’s Business Training Center in Hawthorne. Janitors, meat cutters, workers who can the beef tripe and hominy, and those who drive the forklifts are teamed up to learn how to find ways to cut delays and increase yields.

The program is paid for by a state grant.

“It creates opportunities so you can continue to grow and prosper as a business so you can retain jobs,” said David Cardona, director of human resources for the family business that opened in 1946 and now employs 135 people.

Community colleges statewide are grappling with budget cuts, but many of California’s 112 community colleges still offer a variety of free or low-cost training for the employees of local companies. More information about the workforce training programs is available online at

Workers at Canyon Engineering Products Inc., a Valencia-based machine shop serving the aerospace industry, go to classes at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita. They learn how to use software programs that help design and create parts utilizing lathes, mills, routers and other machines they use.

“It’s a huge advantage for us,” said Jerilyn Ritter, director of human resources at the 70-employee business. “It’s bringing in business because now we are more equipped to handle making maybe a more complex part.”

Developing highly trained and effective workers is more important than ever for small businesses, which play a major role in the California economy and its recovery, program officials said.

“As the small businesses go, so goes the economy,” said Catherine Swenson, who oversees training and development for the half-dozen or so industry-specific initiatives set up under the community college system.

The federal government has allocated $2 billion for grants to the nation’s community colleges over the next four years to retrain laid-off workers and place them in new jobs in their communities.

Community colleges are also a valuable source of trained workers.

Marcos Opinaldo, 60, landed a job in quality control at California Screw Products in Paramount last year after completing an intensive eight-week training program called Aerospace Fastener Boot Camp. The boot camp was created by local companies that need skilled workers, including CalScrew, and nearby community colleges.

Opinaldo was accepted into the program, based at El Camino College’s Compton campus, after his former aerospace-industry employer closed its doors. “It’s like a second chance,” the La Crescenta resident said.

Ross Milstein of Sherman Oaks took design-software classes 18 months ago through an entertainment industry training program at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys. The classes helped him improve the graphics and labels he used for, his candle and soap business, and he said it has paid off.

Milstein’s new skills enabled him to redesign labels for his scented soy candles, including adding an image of electrical energy to the black-and-white label of his previously low-selling Cool Fusion candle targeted toward men.

“People would pick it up right away, even though the scent was the same as before,” he said. “It was our biggest seller last year.”