Career Catalyst

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Work-Based Learning: A Catalyst for Career Success

Education promises a path to a better life for millions of Californians – a promise that is best fulfilled when classroom instruction is paired with hands-on application. Work-based learning provides this opportunity for students or learners starting in middle school, as well as those looking to make a mid-career change.

Since 1998, Career Catalyst has provided an employer-of-record service and streamlined back-office functions for paid work experiences like internships, apprenticeships, and student jobs, supporting equitable access to quality work-based learning for all Californians. Career Catalyst partners with educators, workforce practitioners, and employers, and the service has connected thousands of learners to jobs – whether their first paid experience or critical temporary work.

For former student Nickolas Saldivar, a paid Student Assistant position offered through Career Catalyst provided a new start and confidence to get back into the workforce during the Great Recession.

In 2008, Sacramento resident Nickolas Saldivar III was helping his father grow their family business in the finance and real estate sector when the Great Recession hit. He had attended college straight out of high school, but left to help his family after completing only a few credits – and soon, he found himself without a job in the middle of the worst global financial crisis since the early 1930s. After applying to and interviewing for several positions, Nickolas decided to return to college and pursue a degree to give him an advantage in the new economy – he enrolled first at Sacramento City College, then transferred to Menlo College in the Bay Area, taking classes while simultaneously balancing the responsibilities of raising a family.

Headshot of Nickolas Saldivar III Nickolas Saldivar III

Nickolas worked briefly as an intern at the California Treasurer's Office, then was referred by a coworker to the Student Assistant program at the California Agricultural Labor and Relations Board (ALRB). The ALRB, which supports Californian agricultural workers and oversees processes to provide stability in agricultural labor relations, is a long-standing partner of Career Catalyst. By serving as the employer of record, administering payroll, managing workers' compensation, and handling human resource needs, Career Catalyst streamlines the hiring and employment process for colleges, high schools, state agencies, workforce organizations, and private employers. In turn, that allows our partners to focus on providing students with meaningful paid work-based learning experiences that complement their education.

Through this process facilitated by Career Catalyst, Nickolas applied to the ALRB, interviewed, and was accepted.

He says of his experience, “Joining the student intern program allowed me to work and gain experience with an established employer, one that was understanding and gave me the flexibility to continue pursuing an education simultaneously. Working at ALRB not only gave me the opportunity to sharpen the skills I was learning in the traditional classroom, but it gave me the confidence to get back into the workforce.”

Creating Opportunity for the Next Generation

In 2012, Nickolas graduated and was offered a full-time position with the ALRB as a Business Services Officer, overseeing the office’s procurement, leasing, and general management. Two years later, he was promoted to Chief of Administration and Chief Information Officer and found himself in charge of recruitment – recruiting full-time employees, but also overseeing student assistants, a position he knew well.

In my role overseeing recruitment, I felt a responsibility to provide even more students with real-life experience as I had been afforded through Career Catalyst in those years prior. The students we interviewed were always enthusiastic and hungry to learn; what they needed was an opportunity to develop skills and test out certain areas in the workforce for themselves. Most students went on to work with us full time at ALRB, but that wasn’t the focus. It was to provide work exposure in legal, government, business, and to help them build confidence in planning out their future career trajectory.

Nickolas Saldivar III

Crediting his work-based learning experience at the ALRB with changing his life trajectory, Career Catalyst was the link that provided Nickolas with employment, income to support his family, and the opportunity to gain valuable skill sets in a new sector and successfully pivot in a changing economy. In this new role, Nickolas was able to provide students with similar opportunity to what he had been afforded years earlier.

Developing Our Future Workforce

Serving 2.1 million students, the California Community Colleges represents the nation’s largest system of higher education and leading provider of career and workforce training in the country. With this title comes not only weighty responsibility but tremendous opportunity to help shape our future workforce to rise to California’s future economic challenges and opportunities.

Photo of Nickolas Saldivar III at law school graduation Nickolas at his law school graduation

Since the Foundation’s founding in 1998, workforce development has been a core focus of our work, beginning with the launch of Career Catalyst. Created and hosted in-house, Career Catalyst enables public and private sector employers to hire short-term, part-time, summer, and full-time employees while the Foundation acts as the official employer of record.

Real-life work experience allows students to practice and expand upon their classroom-based learning and continue to develop the hard and soft skills necessary for success in today's workforce. In simplifying the hiring and administrative processes of offering paid work experience, organizations can focus on connecting students with work-based learning opportunities and professional networks to help them advance successfully. Working hand-in-hand with colleges and the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office Workforce and Economic Development Division, the Foundation continues to develop and implement creative solutions in California and on a national scale that afford students like Nickolas with avenues for on the job training and career exploration.

Nickolas had benefited from his experience as a Student Assistant, and has since gone on to work for the City of Stockton, and he now works in commercial real estate, handling investments and West Coast leasing for Northgate Commercial. When the economy crashed in 2008, he wasn’t sure he’d bounce back. “Unfortunate events could have set me on a bad path, but it ended up leading me to return to college and gaining work experience,” said Nickolas. “I’m an advocate for work-based learning and want all students to have the same experience I had years ago.”

Learn more about Career Catalyst

Story Archive

20 Stories of Impact

For over two decades, the Foundation has worked to support innovation and excellence in higher education across the California Community Colleges. As we honor our 20 year anniversary, we are reflecting on the progress we have made and the partnerships we have built along the way. Throughout 2019, we will be sharing some of the bright spots along our journey through telling “20 Stories of Impact”. These defining moments highlight the work of our organization and recognize the partners in the public sector, philanthropy, and the individuals that have been essential to the success of our work.

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