By Jon Wollenhaupt
Most people think of San Diego as a beach resort town whose economy is based mostly on tourism. But another economic wave is cresting in this city, renowned for its beaches and near-perfect weather: the region’s blue-tech sector—the maritime technology industry— may be at a turning point.
Not only can San Diego County boast the nation’s largest cluster of blue-tech employers, but the area’s blue-tech sector employs tens of thousands of people and generates an annual economic impact of roughly $14 billion.
To help build a strong blue-tech sector workforce in North San Diego County, the Mira Costa Community College Technology Career Institute (TCI) located in Carlsbad has developed intensive training programs in electronics, manufacturing, and technician-level engineering that are preparing students for employment with local business involved in underwater robotics, drone manufacturing, aquafarming, and desalinization.
To learn more about the blue-tech sector and the training and educational programs offered at the Technology Career Institute, UpSkill California spoke with Linda Kurokawa, TCI’s Director of Community Education & Workforce Development.
UpSkill California: How did the Technology Career Institute come about?
Kurokawa: We developed the Technology Career Institute in 2015 after we received multiple requests from industry to offer technology programs at the technician level in machining and engineering. After much collaboration with local industry, we started by offering the machinist program at another, smaller site in 2012. Subsequently, I wrote a Department of Labor grant and received a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant for $2.75 million, which allowed us to move into a much larger building and create the Technology Career Insitute.
The grant funding also enabled us to establish the Engineering Technician Program and expand many more certificate programs under Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering. The primary focus of those programs is to provide a talent pipeline for local industry and to train their workers.
UpSkill California: How are local employers benefiting from the programs you offer?
Kurokawa: Local employers here in North San Diego County benefit from our accelerated training programs by hiring skilled program graduates prepared to walk in and start working immediately with only a moderate amount of training needed. They also send us their new employees for an initial three to four months of training, and they get back a well-trained individual. This also allows supervisors at the company to focus on their work without having to take time to train these new employees.
Our business clients also appreciate the fact that we offer a wide variety of industry-relevant training, which gives them a lot of options. They want a lot of flexibility and variety in the ways they can get a skilled individual or upskill their employees.
Additionally, the grants we’ve been awarded also help employers. For example, last year, we received a $6 million Promise Grant through the Department of Labor. The Promise Grant allows us to offer our advanced manufacturing and engineering courses tuition-free. The grant is used to cover instructor salaries, supplies, and the equipment we purchase to keep our current labs state-of-the-art and to obtain the equipment we need to start new training programs.
UpSkill California: What is an example of the investments in labs and equipment you’ve made with the grant money you received?
Kurokawa: We are in the first year of a four-year grant. As far as the process goes, we’ve just recently received approval from the Department of Labor for our equipment list. So, we are still in the planning process and are looking at procuring equipment that will be used for three new programs we plan to offer. One program we plan to launch later this year is a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV)/Drone technician program that will provide operator training for underwater robots and Drones. The ROV/Drone technician program is part of our blue-tech program.
We also have our sights on starting a biomedical equipment technician program. For that program, we plan to buy a lot of medical equipment that our students will be trained to repair. The third one is a craft brewing technician program for which we’ll buy brewing equipment.
UpSkill California: The blue-tech sector appears to be multifaceted. Can you describe it in more detail?
Kurokawa: Blue tech refers to the maritime technology industry and has a focus on creating sustainable ocean technology. The blue-tech sector is driven by companies creating technologies that have to function in the ocean and in our rivers and waterways. The Blue Tech sector includes businesses involved in areas as diverse as aquaculture and fishing, shipbuilding, desalination and water treatment, defense and security, marine recreation, ports and marine transportation, biotechnology, and ocean energy and minerals.
UpSkill California: How is blue tech incorporated into your traditional programs offerings, such as electronics and manufacturing?
Kurokawa: In our electronics program, the blue-tech component involves teaching students about what happens to electronics when they are immersed in the ocean and they are exposed to 300 psi of pressure and what you have to do to protect electronic components from the corrosive effects of saltwater. They also learn about what happens to plastics under water. For example, if you’re designing a plastic molding for some sort of suit or equipment, what do you have to do differently to make it last in an ocean environment? The students learn all about that.
We are preparing our students for careers with the many San Diego-based companies that have a blue-technology focus. The area is a hub of blue-technology innovation, which creates a very unique opportunity for us and our students.
UpSkill California: What are some of the local companies that represent that industry?
Kurokawa: Teledyne has a branch of its operations called Seabotix, which manufactures underwater robots. There’s another company called Planck Aerosystems that makes drones that land on ships and other types of ocean watercraft. And there’s Carlsbad Aquafarm and the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, which uses technology to make pure water out of seawater.
The reality is any large city along a coastal region has ablue-tech sector. In many cases, industries in coastal areas are involved in blue tech and the blue economy without identifying it as such. We really need to identify it.
UpSkill California: Why is it important to identify the sector?
Kurokawa: As I mentioned before, blue tech is about creating sustainable ocean technologies. By carefully defining the sector, we are identifying a category of businesses involved in the development of environmentally conscious technologies. There are benefits to creating brand associations for the sector that speak to sustainability. Such benefits include helping to attract investment and further technology innovation. It’s also good public relations for companies in the sector. It sends the message that blue-tech companies are undertaking manufacturing and engineering processes related to the ocean environment in a responsible way. It shows they are concerned about taking care of our water resources instead of polluting them or creating problems that some future generation will have to try to fix.
For me, it is exciting to be part of a conversation that’s starting to happen around the world that’s about blue technology and the blue economy. I’ve been invited to go to Plymouth, England to offer guidance to the city in starting up an industry training center like ours. I’m also on the executive board of the Maritime Alliance here in San Diego. The Maritime Alliance is a conglomeration of industry and companies that come together to talk about how to work with and advocate for sustainable ocean and water technology.
UpSkill California: How are your programs structured to meet student’s needs?
Kurokawa: Our engineering technician program comprises all of the classes one needs to become a technician, which involves 600 hours of class and training. In the program, students learn electronics, mechanical training, automation, robotics, hydraulics, pneumatics, 3-D printing, and additive manufacturing. During the program, they undertake projects that blend together all those topics. After every classroom session on theory, our students immediately go into the lab and practice it.
That blending of different types of training really speaks to the advantage of our program, which is not-for-credit. If you were to take those courses through the credit program, you might take an electronics class in the spring semester and then maybe a mechanical class in the fall. Then, after the winter break, you would come back and take a robotics class—if it was offered. In the credit program, they don’t usually combine all three course topics together.
In our program, all the coursework is integrated and contextualized. And that gives the students a perspective on how those skills and that knowledge are used in concert in the workplace, in the real world. Therefore, they’re much more prepared to walk into a work environment and understand how to operate the machines, and how to think about things in an integrated pattern. We also infuse our courses with things like leadership and communications skills, as well as résumé writing and interviewing skills.
What we have found after five years of experience is that the accelerated, intensive and integrated nature of our programs allows us to deliver more curriculum to students than what could be delivered over the stretch of a one-year or two-year program. And that intensity makes students engaged with and committed to the program. Very few of our students drop out. We have high retention rates in the high 90th percentile. And we have high employment rates. Over 90% get employed.
About the Technology Career Institute The Technology Career Institute (TCI) is part of Mira Costa College’s Community Education & Workforce Development department.
TCI was created to help individuals find meaningful employment and fulfilling lives. TCI provides job training in the fields of advanced manufacturing, engineering, healthcare, security, veterinary science, and professional skills training.
For more information about programs at the Technology Career Institute, please contact:
Director of Community Education & Workforce Development
Technology Career Institute
2075 Las Palmas Drive Carlsbad, CA 92011 Office: 760.795.6824
For more information on customized training programs offered by community colleges in your area, please contact:
Project Manager, Contract Education, Technical Assistance Provider
California Community Colleges
Jon Wollenhaupt is a marketing consultant who writes about topics related to contract education, employee training, and corporate learning for the California Community Colleges. His work is funded by the Technical Assistant Provider (TAP) grant that is hosted at Mt. San Antonio College. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org