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Shelley Shares

by Shelley M. Hoss

The weeks leading up to May 1, National College Decision Day, are an exciting time as seniors and their anxious parents weigh options for that first big step after high school.

Some students will choose to attend a community college, though not necessarily for a pathway to a four-year degree.

Instead, they’re going to be apprentices— training for one of the more than 17,000 open middle-skills jobs (which require training or certification but not a college degree) for which Orange County employers are offering healthy salaries and benefits. Jobs like piloting drones for mapping or search and rescue operations.

It’s a concept that goes back centuries – reimagined for the 21st century—and a model that the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) has embraced through our workforce development initiative, The Future is Working.

In a prime example of how our community’s heartfelt intention can lead to innovative solutions, OCCF launched The Future is Working in 2019 with funding from an estate gift designated for local educational institutions.  We saw a perfect opportunity to match this funding with the unmet needs of employers and underemployed OC residents by aligning workforce training with high-growth local industries such as advanced manufacturing, healthcare, and IT.

OCCF The Future is Working EventThe results to date have been inspiring. Take for example a job category most of us could never have imagined in our own college days but which is now growing by leaps and bounds—Certified Remote (Drone) Pilot.

Through our initiative, students can now enroll in the Hornet Drone Pilot Apprenticeship Program at Fullerton College which will prepare them to join the workforce armed with the licensing and equipment needed to be job-ready. Launched in 2022, this program garnered enthusiastic partnerships with nonprofits, employers and additional funders including the Samueli Foundation, and leveraged a transformative grant of $500K from the State of California as a result of OCCF’s seed funding.

Fullerton College Drone Lab
Photo courtesy of Fullerton College Drone Lab

At Fullerton College, students can complete the drone pilot certificate in a year, followed by on-the-job training at companies such as Birds Eye Aerial, C2 Technologies, Flying Lion, Orange County Vector Control and Southern California Edison. Since the program launched, 37 students have been placed as drone pilots in businesses. Qualified drone pilots are needed in infrastructure inspection, surveying, mapping, construction, public safety, search and rescue, cinematography, and more.

What the drone pilot apprenticeship program illustrates is the powerful result when philanthropists, employers and educational institutions come together to help students prepare for career success. I believe that it’s a model that can be replicated across the nation, focusing on skills for in-demand and up-and-coming jobs that don’t require a four-year college degree.

To get involved with OCCF’s The Future is Working initiative or learn more about how you can make a difference, contact Mayra Chavez at

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