NORTH BAY -- Graduates of North Bay colleges are increasingly bracing to enter a job market that often works on the basis of  projects instead of long-term payroll, finding success by adopting the sensibilities of an entrepreneurial self advocate, educators said.

Highlighted through new certificate programs, entrepreneurial initiatives and observations from job placement activity, the response from regional educational institutions reflects the changing relationship that employers from a variety of industries have with their workforce. For some, the hiring trends seen during the recession could be the herald of a new normal for a workforce that will be increasingly transient in its job roles and even employers.

[caption id="attachment_68874" align="alignleft" width="164"] Mark Nelson[/caption]

"It goes back to how the world of work is getting done," said Mark Nelson, entrepreneur-in-residence at Sonoma State University and former president and CEO of the professional staffing firm, the Nelson Family of Companies. "The days of going to work for Chevron or Hewlett Packard and doing the same thing for 30 years are gone."

While project-focused employment, including the hiring of contractors, is not new, Mr. Nelson said that it is a growing cultural shift that is affecting even full-time payroll employees. In an approach likely incubated in the churning employment landscape of Silicon Valley, employers are increasingly rating their most-valued workers by their level of job flexibility, specialized training and initiative for professional development, he said.

"These concepts have certainly been magnified, particularly in the Silicon Valley," he said. "It's not only an innovative area in terms of technology, but in the area of marketing and business practices."

In his role at Sonoma State, Mr. Nelson said that he is advising students to think of themselves as an "economic unit of one," developing a personal business plan involving continued training and branding in order to secure an edge over competition and help their chances for advancement once hired.

In recognition of the prevalence of this mindset across a variety of industries, Napa Valley College launched an entrepreneur certificate program last year that would work in conjunction with a variety of other degree programs at the college, said Elizabeth Pratt, associate dean of economic workforce development.

While courses in the 12-unit certificate are anchored around the process of starting and operating a business, Ms. Pratt said that those skills are also in direct demand by employers and help students to advance as both payroll employees and professional contractors.

In the North Bay, Ms. Pratt said that employers have been increasingly outsourcing responsibilities like human resources, payroll, digital media and marketing. The trend has increased opportunities for those with a strong reputation in providing services in those fields.

"The jobs of tomorrow -- we're going to have to be more self-sufficient," she said.

A professional designation -- whether a four-year degree or professional certificate -- still provides a significant advantage for job seekers, said Phil Vo, career development manager at Empire College. Yet while the college has doubled its number of successful job placings and job orders versus the same time last year, hiring continues to proceed cautiously as employers emerge leaner from the recession, he said.

"Things are changing so fast. You can't just say, 'I'm going to do this for the rest of my life,'" Mr. Nelson said. "Individuals need to be thinking every day as a business owner -- and that business is you."