Published Jul 1, 2009 9:00 AM
When it comes to providing job skills for the future, UCLA Extension has always been on the cutting edge, starting with French classes for nurses going overseas during WWI, and later aerospace classes for LA's burgeoning flight industry. Now, classes look ahead to sustainability, social networking and online advertising.
Where will you be working in five years?
Perhaps in a job that doesn't even have a name yet. Despite the recession, there are bright lights of opportunity in the workplace as new industries emerge, new technologies create whole new job categories, and new skills are needed. UCLA Extension is preparing Angelenos for all of those future jobs, as it has for more than a century.
When the continuing-education powerhouse was born in 1917, one of its first courses was teaching French to nurses being sent overseas to minister to the wounded in World War I. A few years later, after the infant movie industry migrated west, Extension taught filmmaking. A few decades later, it trained aerospace engineers.
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Today, 60,000 students take Extension courses every year. From 2002-2007, Extension has generated more than $1.23 billion in economic benefit to Los Angeles. The annual financial contribution of what is fondly known as "UNEX" to the L.A. economy is $250 million — more than 70 percent of which is related to increased earning power of the students who have completed Extension programs.
And Extension's focus remains firmly fixed on the future.
"It's part of our DNA," says Extension Dean Cathy Sandeen. "You could trace it back to the land-grant mission of UCLA, which is to engage with the broader community and ensure it is benefiting from the research and programs at the university. That's why over time, we developed particular expertise in serving working professionals in Los Angeles. We are in close contact with the marketplace. What's happening in industry? What's shifting? How can we remain in the forefront and supply knowledge and skills that industries and organizations want?"
To help prepare students for future jobs, Sandeen M.B.A. '05 has formed an advisory board of leaders and senior executives to "help guide me in mega-trends so that we can plan for them."
So what skills will the working world of tomorrow need? Here are several current and soon-to-launch Extension courses and programs that collectively answer that critical question.
Not even the recession can slow down the growth of green. On the contrary, growing sustainable businesses is a key component of the Obama administration's recovery plan, with more than $20 billion earmarked for greening the economy and $500 million of the stimulus slated for green-jobs training.
Cutting across many different occupations and industries, there are many competing ideas of what constitutes a green job. U.S. News & World Report said in a March online story that a broad definition might include "everything from scientists and engineers devising technological breakthroughs to people building wind turbines and installing solar panels."
By any definition, though, there is a wide consensus that the field will blossom.
A key component to a green future, of course, is sustainability. This fall, UNEX plans to fully roll out its Global Sustainability Certificate Program, which will offer students concentration in one of four subject areas: design, business strategy, environmental law and policy, and energy and technology. The program "emerged from many, many companies and organizations who are hiring individuals responsible for sustainability efforts within those organizations," notes Sandeen. "Not many of those people have formal degrees in environmental sustainability."
The opportunities are huge, adds Karim Cherif, associate dean for academic affairs at UCLA Extension. "We're talking about careers at so many different levels of multiple industries, including clean-energy industries; infrastructure projects; design; technology; law and other areas of expertise which involve contributing to a positive impact on global sustainability … as more companies learn that sustainability can be profitable, and they come to understand the importance of their interrelationship with the natural environment — because people will demand it — the career paths will just blow wide open, just as they did when the Internet first became mainstream."
The Internet, in fact, is now old media. Digital technology has created revolutions in industry after industry, and entirely new jobs are springing up everywhere. One of the most fascinating new fields is "user experience," which Sandeen explains is "a combination of technology and design that facilitates and enhances the user's ability to engage with various technologies. One example would be: How do you design an e-commerce website to optimize the user's ability to find and purchase something?"
Extension hopes to offer students the answers to these and other questions in a User Experience Certificate Program now under development for a planned launch in 2010. It's "an increasingly important area of Web development," notes Scott Hutchinson '87, M.F.A. '93, Extension program director. "With all the technological advances out there, the speed of the Internet and maturing of game design and game development, the idea of play, interaction, learning and creating [an online] space that can respond to different users in what we call 'narrowcasting ways' is really here. Lots of companies that are now purely virtual understand that user experience is a differentiation."
The program, which will probably consist of around 10 courses, is, like many future jobs, expected to attract interest from a diverse group of working professionals. Hutchinson believes that the User Experience certificate will be sought by people in engineering, communications, cultural anthropology and graphic design. And for very good reason — "Yahoo, Google, Microsoft all really covet these people," he notes. "Headhunters are now specializing in interaction designer placements. And a user experience designer typically makes double what a regular designer makes."