career ladders
Engage Magazine General Interest Winter 2021

Career Ladders for Gerontology Workforce: The California Community Colleges

California Community Colleges recognize that career ladder models in healthcare and gerontology are a successful method to offering multiple pathway options for developing the workforce. Training is offered to support careers in senior living, lifestyles, and healthcare in rural and urban colleges in 113 locations throughout California. The Health Workforce Initiative (HWI), a grant from California Community College Chancellor’s Office Economic and Workforce Development, is a regional director employer engagement (RDEE) network that connects employers, colleges, and high schools to strengthen pathways in healthcare fields.

A strong sense to integrate social care into healthcare delivery and the growing need for the aging population is a critical goal. The 2019 California Master Plan for Aging goals, spearheaded by Governor Newsom, has guided the expansion of programs and professional development training for faculty in multiple disciplines within the colleges.

The California Community College mission for affordable, accessible, and quality education as a public institution is vital in supporting a diverse workforce. Programs prepare a diverse workforce within social services, direct care, business, and industry-recognized certifications and degrees for the senior living and care industries. Over 7,500 students completed a certificate or degree in nursing, human services, or gerontology statewide in 2018-2019, according to the CalPass Plus Launchboard data. Additionally, 75 registered nursing, 37 licensed vocational nursing, and 43 certified nursing assistant programs at the community colleges support demand for entry level careers in skilled nursing, acute care, community, and ambulatory healthcare. The community college graduates are from diverse backgrounds, with 80 percent economically disadvantaged and more than 61 percent representing diverse racial and ethnic groups (Calpass Plus Launchboard, Nursing, 2018-19). 

With a regional approach, HWI is supporting strong career ladders to meet workforce needs. In the Greater Sacramento area, Folsom Lake College, with RDEE HWI’s Julie Holt assisting in developing a new direct caregiver course in traditional and online education. Additionally, American River College (ARC) offers certificates and degrees for multiple sub-specialties in gerontology, including business, social services, policy and advocacy, recreation, dementia care, and residential care facility administration. The ARC associate degrees are pathways to transfer to California State University, Sacramento, for multiple specialties in bachelor degrees in gerontology.

In the Inland Empire, Chaffey College, assisted by HWI RDEE’s Wendy Deras has marketed their online gerontology courses to high school students to promote awareness of career pathways in gerontological studies. This marketing effort in the fall of 2020 resulted in filling the offered courses for spring 2021 in “Principles of Caregiving: Older Adults and Their Care,” “Aging and the Life Course” and “Death and Dying.” Chaffey College has multiple gerontology certificates, an Associate Degree for Transfer in Gerontology and an Associate’s Degree of Public Health, and an asynchronous online social service assistant course. Deras has also brought statewide professional development to college faculty in Dementia and Alzheimer’s to prepare faculty to add this content to their health care courses. The dementia training offered is preparation for the Dementia Care Practitioner Certification with the National Council for Dementia Care Practitioners.

Connecting Certified Nursing Assistant programs and engaging industry partners throughout the state have been a priority initiative for HWI during the pandemic response. HWI Statewide Director, John Cordova, with the HWI team, hosted a statewide conference, Building Resilience in our CNA Workforce, in December 2020. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the regulating body for CNA programs and licensure, and other industry partners led informational sessions for program directors and faculty implementing effective training strategies during the pandemic. Additionally, RDEE’s Deras, Holt, and Trudy Old (in the Far North region) organized efforts to respond to COVID-19 by supporting faculty and sharing best practices to persist in training during the pandemic through Communities of Practice in both Southern and Northern California. 

The California Community College programs support the health workforce to serve California’s older adult care system through multiple career ladders. HWI supports diverse students’ opportunities to transition into the workforce and serve older adults in all corners of the state. 

Learn more about the Health Workforce Initiative at


Julie Holt, RN, MSN, CPNP, Regional Director for Employer Engagement for Health, Greater Sacramento Region Community Colleges, Health Workforce Initiative

John Cordova, RN, BSN, PHN, Statewide Director for Employer Engagement for Health, Health Workforce Initiative, California Community Colleges

Wendy Deras, MS, RN, CNE, CNS/PMH, CDP, CADDPT, Regional Director for Employer Engagement for Health, Inland Empire Community Colleges, Health Workforce Initiative

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