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CCW “Essential Workers” Report

Essential Workers in Critical Infrastructure Industries at the time of COVID, in the Los Angeles Basin


  • Examines occupations in the L.A. region that are affected by the COVID pandemic because they are deemed to be in “essential industries” that must remain in operation
  • Identifies the jobs that represent the best targets for community college students
  • Compares regional supply of talent to demand
  • Identifies career ladders related to these occupations


The Los Angeles Basin’s competitive and rapidly changing economic landscape has given rise to a job market in which highly specialized knowledge and skills often mean the difference between success and failure. To help meet this challenge, the Center for a Competitive Workforce (CCW) set out to study the demand for middle-skill occupations in the essential occupations set forth by the California State Public Health Office, with the intention of calibrating the region’s talent development system, and ultimately helping job seekers find well-paying careers in hiring industries.

This report, Essential Workers in Critical Infrastructure Industries at the time of COVID-19, is the latest in a series of reports by the Center for a Competitive Workforce, the LA/OC Center of Excellence for Labor Market Research and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC).  It focuses on the occupations of essential workers in critical infrastructure, or frontline, industries in the Los Angeles Basin (Los Angeles and Orange counties).

The partnership between our region’s community colleges and industry has never been more important.  LAEDC, as the region’s economic development leader, is a strategic partner facilitating regional industry engagement efforts and providing the labor market research expertise from which good planning and data-driven decisions can be made.  Together, the colleges and LAEDC are leading this important regional initiative to sustain our economy and deliver opportunity for students and businesses.

CCW convenes employers/industry and community colleges to promote collaboration and share insights on talent, technology and trends to strengthen the alignment of education and training that meets the needs of the rapidly changing industries that will dominate our economic future.  The center’s work addresses the talent gaps employers face and the supply of skilled talent to meet projected workforce demand. CCW was founded as a Strong Workforce Program regional project of the 19 community colleges in the Los Angeles region, the L.A./O.C. Center of Excellence for Labor Market Research (COE), and the LAEDC and its Institute of Applied Economics. CCW has several work streams:

• Labor Market Analysis    • Industry Councils    • Regional Program Advisory Meetings    • Work-Based Learning Partnerships   • Company Visits and Career Videos   • Workforce and Education Partners Portal     • Bioscience Industry Portal

The report authors offer key points in kickoff webinar

Industry Overview

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on workers both nationwide and in the Los Angeles Basin has demonstrated the critical importance of essential workers. Despite stay-at-home orders and widespread business closures that have impacted the lives and livelihoods of countless residents, workers in critical infrastructure industries have generally been able to maintain steady employment and incomes as their sectors were allowed to continue operating. Although sustained work throughout the pandemic has put many of these low-wage workers with higher risk of exposure to the virus, it has also protected the financial stability of their households to a much higher degree than similar low-wage workers in non-essential industries forced to close. As frontline industries will operate no matter what economic shocks may arise, they can provide attractive career pathways for their lower-skill workers to progress and advance to higher-skill positions with training and skill development, all while remaining insulated from the employment and financial insecurity of unforeseen catastrophes like a global pandemic.


2.6 million workers are in frontline industries (40% of total workforce), employed in occupations across a number of diverse industries in the Los Angeles Basin, with a wide range of skills and capabilities.


While non-essential industries in the Los Angeles Basin saw a massive 23.6% decline in employment from Q1 to Q2 2020, the essential industries were insulated from layoffs and only experienced a 6.3% drop in employment due to COVID.


39% of jobs in frontline industries are below middle-skill occupations, 44% are middle-skill occupations (require some college e.g. certificate or associate degree) and the remaining 17% are above middle-skill occupations. Many of these occupations are valid targets for community college programs


Many of these occupations found in frontline industries earn wages below the living wage. However, the ten middle-skill and high-skill pathway occupations that CCW has identified pay well, profiled below and in the report.

More about our workforce in the “essential industries”


363,000 workers in the Los Angeles Basin were employed in the ten target occupations identified in this report, with 159,640 working in critical infrastructure or frontline industries. Bookkeeping, accounting & auditing clerks account for the greatest number of jobs amongst the targeted occupations.


There will be 93,600  job openings in the ten identified occupations in the the LA Basin over the next five years, which CCW has identified as most promising (good wages, good match for middle-skill, and job openings)


There are 20,300 annual openings projected for the ten middle-skill and pathway target occupations studied for this report. However, community college completions in relevant programs only average about 5,670 awards from the three academic years between 2016 and 2019.


Essential workers, especially in healthcare, have a risk of contracting COVID due to their work. Turning recommended safety guidelines into strict policies and expanding access to personal protective equipment is a necessity. Physical distancing, flexible worksite & scheduling mechanisms, and mask-wearing are key.

Jobs with a bright future

Middle-Skill Occupations
Traditionally, the Center for a Competitive Workforce has selected target occupations that employ mostly middle-skill workers. These middle-skill opportunities typically have educational attainment levels that are higher than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree. Within frontline industries, five middle-skill occupations for community college graduates to target are:

Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks

What they do:

Compute, classify, and record numerical data to keep financial records complete. May also check the accuracy of figures, calculations, and postings pertaining to business transactions recorded by other workers.

Wage: $18/hr.

Social and Human Service Assistants

What they do:

Assist client service in fields such as psychology, rehabilitation, or social work, & support for families. May assist social workers with programs to address substance abuse, human relationships, rehabilitation, or dependent care.

Wage: $16/hr.

Licensed Vocational Nurses

What they do: 

Care for ill, injured, or convalescing patients or persons with disabilities in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and similar facilities as well as private homes.  May work under the supervision of a registered nurse.  Licensing is required for this occupation.

Wage: $24/hr.

Computer User Support Specialists

What they do: 

Provide technical assistance to computer users. Answer questions or resolve computer problems for clients in person, via phone or over web. May assist w/ hardware, software, printing, installation, email, and more

Wage: $22/hr.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

What they do:

Assist lawyers by investigating facts, preparing legal documents, or researching legal precedent for court cases. Conduct research via electronic discovery resources to support a legal proceeding, to formulate a defense, or to initiate legal action.

Wage: $18/hr.

High-Skill Pathway Occupations
The Center for a Competitive Workforce also identified five target pathway occupations that typically stipulate a bachelor’s degree but where at least 25 percent of incumbent workers in the United States have less than a bachelor’s degree. The colleges have a significant number of programs that train students looking to further their education with a bachelor’s degree in order to qualify for these pathway jobs. These five pathway occupations include:

Accountants and Auditors

What they do:

Examine, analyze, and interpret accounting records to prepare financial statements, give advice, or audit and evaluate statements prepared by others.  Install or advise on systems of recording costs or other financial and budgetary data. 

Wage: $27/hr.

Software Developers/QA Analysts and Testers

What they do:

Create and modify computer applications or utility programs. Analyze user needs and develop software solutions. Design or customize software or databases for client use working either in teams or individually

Wage: $45/hr.

Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists

What they do:

Research market conditions and info to assess potential sales of a product or service, or create a marketing campaign and monitor analytics. May gather info on competitors, prices, sales, and distribution channels

Wage: $24/hr.

Financial Managers

What they do:

Plan, direct, or coordinate accounting, investing, banking, insurance, securities, and other financial activities of a branch, office, or department of an establishment.  Typically uses online tools for research and strategic planning.

Wage: $47/hr.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers

What they do:

Provide social services and assistance to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families. May assist parents, arrange adoptions, and find foster homes for abandoned or abused children.

Wage: $22/hr.

Essential Pathways: Construction, Professional Services, Healthcare, Social Services

With training and additional education, career advancement leads to better wages.  The report details specific pathways, local community colleges and requisite skills that will help workers with this economic mobility.

  • Construction: Carpenter’s Helpers and Construction Laborers often advance with training to higher wage occupations of Carpenters, First-line Supervisors of Construction, and Construction Managers.
  • Healthcare: Personal Care Aides and Home Health Aides often advance to Nurses Assistants with certification, and with more education upward to Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, and upward to Registered Nurses (requires Bachelors degree) and Nurse Practitioners (requires Masters degree).
  • Accounting: Billing and Posting Clerks often advance upward to Bookkeeping, Accounting and Auditing Clerks (requires only some college), and upward to Accountants and Auditors (requires Bachelors degree).
  • Social Work: Eligibility Interviewers for government programs and Social & Human Service Assistants (which only require a high school education) often advance with education and training to Child, Family & School Social Workers (Bachelors degree) and upward to Healthcare Social Workers (Masters degree)

Talent Development

The report details, by region of LA County, the community college programs that serve as pathways into these occupations.  The report is quite detailed in review of student program completions and related data, including information on all the community colleges in the LA Basin.

Sub-region workforce development analysis

To better understand regional differences that exist across the Basin and provide additional insight into the strengths and challenges of its communities, the report presents several key social and economic characteristics of the residents in nine regions across the Los Angeles Basin. For each, the report provides information regarding our target occupations on a regional level, including projected employment, hyper-local community college programs training for these occupations, and the number of program completions, which can be used by community colleges to target outreach programs and other types of development efforts.

1. Gateway Cities
2. Los Angeles Central City
3. San Fernando Valley
4. San Gabriel Valley
5. South Bay
6. Westside Cities
7. Orange County
8. Antelope Valley
9. Santa Clarita Valley

Engage with CCW

After clicking the link near the top of this page to read the full report, please explore this website.  CCW works with the community colleges and industry partners, to help establish work-based learning partnerships and pathways, to enable conversations about scale and content of college programs to meet the hiring demand in industry.  In addition the CCW partner portal serves as regional infrastructure to efficiently connect students and employers, so they can share job leads, work-based learning opportunities and resumes, on a Salesforce community platform.

CCW brings LA’s Industry, Talent, and Community Colleges together to be more demand‐driven, industry responsive, future‐forward and adaptive.

Start by asking a question and we are happy to point out ways you can use CCW to your advantage:

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