Contract Education Responds Rapidly to Employee Training Needs During COVID-19 with Shift to Online Learning

California Community Colleges’ contract education units, which deliver customized employee training for businesses in their communities, kicked into rapid-response mode to help businesses feeling the impact of the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19. With social distancing measures in place and many employees working remotely from home, contract education professionals worked with employers to move in-person training to an online format. In some cases, they developed new trainings to help employees navigate their new work situations.

Below are some examples of how contract education has moved swiftly to make sure their clients can continue building up their employees’ skills during the pandemic.

Butte College Builds on Virtual Offerings to Offer Remote Worker Webinars

For many employers, having employees work from home was a first. For some employees, the work-from-home setup was a challenge as they tried to adjust to the technology and limitations that came with it – on top of homeschooling, parenting and other family needs. Employers needed a way of helping their employees stay focused on their job and productive during this challenging time. 

The Training Place at Butte College immediately responded by building on the existing Leading Virtual Teams and Webinar Wednesday trainings. They also converted multiple employer training classes for front-line employees, supervisors and managers to a virtual training series titled Remote Worker Webinars. The Training Place trainers quickly rallied for a regular weekly workshop to discuss technology, delivery and mentoring, to ensure that learners had the best virtual experience possible. 

On March 24, The Training Place went live, with a total of 39 training courses. More than 80 employees participated in the first Monday session. The Remote Worker and Remote Leader trainings focused specifically on the impact of transitioning to a remote working world. Other courses in employer COVID-19 labor law updates, business skills, computer, continuous improvement and safety also were successfully converted from an in-person format to a virtual format.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Annie Rafferty, Director Contract Education, Training and Development. “The positive feedback includes appreciation for the technical hints and tips on how to set up a remote office at home; juggling homeschooling children with work; and emotional support for dealing with fear and how to show up and be present.”

The online training has been so well-received that employers requested customized leadership workshops related to job relations, wellness and managing challenging conversations. During the last week of April, The Training Place added to its virtual trainings Mindful Monday, Wellness Wednesday and a collaborative project with Sierra College providing COVID-19 safety OSHA 10 for California Conservation Corp. It is exploring a collaborative virtual training with El Camino College and the San Bernardino Community College District.   

In addition to employee training, The Training Place converted its Butte County Human Resource leaders monthly networking session to an hourlong Zoom workshop and provided a training titled CRM: Resiliency Skills for the HR leader. Based on polling needs captured during the training, the second phase of the project involved developing a collaborative partnership between the City of ChicoChico ChamberAlliance for Workforce DevelopmentSierra College and North State Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to sponsor and offer The Training Place’s training to their clients.  

Los Rios CCD Takes Its State Training Online for the First Time 

At Los Rios Community College District, Bruce Winner received word in mid-March that his primary clients, state agencies, were shutting down and transitioning the majority of workers to work remotely. 

“We thought initially, ‘Oh my gosh. There’s nothing we can do,” said Winner, who is director of the community college district’s Government Training Academy

State agencies were accustomed to traditional in-person training, so at that point, the academy had never provided online training to them. The trainings tend to focus on problem-solving, decision-making, critical thinking, writing and project management, among other skills.

Winner and his team brought together about 20 academy instructors to assess the situation, and 

 the group agreed that, with adaptations, they could make the switch to online learning via Zoom. One of the instructors had experience with online learning and took the lead over seven days to prepare the other instructors for the move to online. The academy’s online training went live the second week of April and is expected to complete 146 training days by the end of June, training more than 3,500 employees.

Between three and five distinct daylong trainings are offered weekdays, each with an assistant trainer who provides technical support to ensure the class runs smoothly. Winner said the assistant trainers are part of the pool of 20 instructors, which allows them to continue working when they are not teaching a class – and allows them to sharpen their technical skills. The trainings include a short break every 50 minutes.

The first week was challenging, Winner said, but it has improved each week and satisfies the employer’s need to provide high-quality employee training. 

“People have been very patient, receptive, even enthusiastic in some of the classes,” he said. 

And the state agencies have been receptive, too – they have asked for more online training courses.

“I just don’t think the world is going to be the same for us after this,” Winner said. “There are state agencies that have people in the field all over the place and now that they know this is possible, I just see them sending those field personnel to classes online versus putting them on a plane and sending them to Sacramento and paying for a hotel.”

College of the Sequoias Distributes Laptops to Company to Keep Training Going

The College of the Sequoias Training Resource Center was halfway through a communication, change management and teamwork training to Kawneer employees when the new coronavirus hit. While some employees would remain at the company’s plant, which manufactures architectural hardware (deemed an essential service), others would move to working remotely. The Training Resource Center had to halt Supervisory Academy training to work on a solution and within a couple of weeks was able to take the training virtual, via Zoom. In addition, the center was able to provide Kawneer with laptops to ensure its employees had access to the technology needed to complete the online training.

“Our employees really enjoyed it and had only positive feedback about the content, presentation and how they expect to use what they learned,” Kawneer HR Manager Jennifer Smallwood shared in expressing her gratitude for the move to a virtual training experience. 

Saddleback College Rewrites Amazon’s Leadership Training for Online Delivery 

Contract education professionals at Saddleback College and the Kern Community College District worked together to quickly convert Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt training to an online format soon after Amazon, their client, announced in March that it would be cancelling all onsite training due to COVID-19. 

Even as the company announced the change, online orders increased significantly, prompting Amazon to hire a large number of new employees at all of their distribution centers, which meant an even greater need for increased efficiency and cost reduction.

Saddleback got to work shortly after Amazon’s onsite training was cancelled. The Lean Six Sigma trainer worked to modify the in-person format to an online format, and on April 22, Saddleback delivered the first of two 8-hour online training sessions – one for the day shift and another for the night shift. 

A total of 37 frontline supervisors and managers participated in the training. Additional Six Sigma trainings will continue in the coming months, and results will be monitored to track increased efficiency, productivity and reduced operating costs.

Contact Contract Education at Your Local Community College

Contract education will play a critical role in California’s economic recovery as it meets the needs of  incumbent workers who need new skills to thrive in a changing work environment and for unemployed workers who need to upskill.

For a current list of Contract Education units in your region and their contacts, email Faithe Briley at