Where Is Our Educated Talent?

by RaeAnne Marsh

Are businesses in Arizona able to get the talent they need to operate?

Do we even have a sizeable-enough employment pool? In some sectors, businesses have in the past had to resort to poaching skilled employees from one another, but such a practice is, obviously, not a route to growth for the overall economy.

Businesses, government and education institutions in Arizona are working together to build a strong employment-ready workforce to support business growth and, in turn, build a strong economy.

A study by Arizona’s Office of Economic Opportunity identified the five types of occupations projected to grow the most between 2014 and 2024: management (20.3 percent, from 139,633 to 167,974 jobs); business and financial operations (25.3 percent, from 137,570 to 172,343 jobs); computer and mathematical (29.3 percent, from 88,928 to 114,937 jobs); architectural and engineering (13.1 percent, from 51,932 to 58,717 jobs); and life, physical and social sciences (18.8 percent, from 17,441 to 20,722 jobs).

To support a diversified economy that can advance Arizona, says Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, “We need to attract industries that rely on highly skilled technicians, more finance and more startups. At the W. P. Carey School, we’re developing talent for all economic sectors, because we are trying to train for what exists today and for the future.” The W. P. Carey School ranks in the top five for placing graduates in technology and its entrepreneurship graduates are growing at a fast pace, according to Hillman, and she observes, “Whether they build startups themselves or bring the entrepreneurial mindset into growth companies, we know they have the skills to advance.”

Likewise, Maricopa County Community College District focuses on a variety of economic sectors, which include information technology and cybersecurity, manufacturing, healthcare and bioscience, advanced business services, energy and environmental services, and construction. Matt Hasson, communications director with Maricopa Community Colleges, cites employer demand, projected growth potential and importance to regional economic development priorities as factors in identifying these priority sectors.

Hillman and Hasson feel Arizona needs to move away from its historical dependence on legacy sectors, many of which have not returned to pre-Great Recession strength. And Hasson points out that aerospace and electronics sectors are increasingly vulnerable to outsourcing, automation, and both foreign and domestic competition. “Consequently,” he says, “regional economic development efforts have focused on pivoting existing regional competencies in legacy sectors to new industry areas such as information technology, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, bioscience, and alternative energy development.”

Both also note the attention their institutions devote to aligning education with the changing workforce needs. “We have over 300 unique companies advising us on skills and capabilities they need not only in first-time hires but within leadership. We balance this with the deep expertise that comes from a research faculty to stay ahead of market demands,” Hillman says. And Hasson notes that all occupational programs offered by MCCCD are required to maintain advisory committees made up of local industry representatives who advise program faculty on curriculum. “MCCCD also utilizes industry forecast studies to examine emerging occupational and workforce needs in sectors such as allied health and the biosciences. The District subscribes to predictive analytic datasets to determine future industry and occupational demand, and participates in industry sector partnerships with regional organizations such as the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.”

Megan Rose, in the director’s office of Arizona Department of Administration, says, “The occupation groups where we project the largest growth are management and business and financial operations. These two occupation groups are projected to grow by more than 63,000 jobs by 2024. Total openings, including separations and the new growth, are projected at more than 123,000 over the ten-year period [2014 to 2024].”

Nicole Farr, communications manager with Arizona Insurance Institute, says the Arizona Insurance and Financial Industry has sought to fill nearly 6,000 jobs annually for the past several years. “Here at the Arizona Insurance Institute, we expect the number of job openings to greatly increase over the next five years as more companies in our industry move operations to Arizona and more current employees retire.” The issue is a qualified workforce. “Individuals with an IT background are highly sought after here in Arizona, as well as those with some knowledge of the insurance and financial industry.” Programs to prepare people for a career in this industry do exist, such as an internship program at Rio Salado College, but many companies will hire employees with an associate’s degree or simply a high school diploma or equivalent, and train employees in-house. Farr sees a need for companies to come together in order “to create the educational environment we need here in Arizona to build and sustain a new, highly qualified workforce.”

Such coming together is what the manufacturing industry has done. Arizona Precision Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program is a collaborative effort under the Arizona Commerce Authority of businesses within the industry and education institutions that aims to promote apprenticeship as a route to provide regional precision manufacturers with a world-class technical workforce.

Advanced manufacturing is one of the areas in which Arizona is seeing “impressive growth,” according to Rose. “Over the last 12 months, there have been several significant announcements of expansions and relocations that are bringing a large number of new manufacturing jobs to the state. Raytheon, Intel, Orbital ATK and Lucid Motors have announced significant expansion plans — those four projects alone account for over 7,600 projected new jobs — while Benchmark Electronics, Rogers Corporation and others have announced they are relocating their headquarters to Arizona,” she says.

Pointing out that manufacturing now encompasses defense, aerospace, semiconductor, alternative energy, medical and automotive industries, Steve Macias, president and CEO of Pivot Manufacturing, says, “The needs are shifting from the old days of plugging in unskilled labor and having them learn a trade over many years to employers now needing employees who have a certain level of tech skills from the get-go, as well as having the ever-important soft skills of showing up on time and playing well with others.”

Macias, who is past chairman of the Arizona Manufacturers Council and continues to serve as chairman of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, adds, “Under Gov. Ducey, there has been a renewed emphasis on getting an understanding of workforce needs from the business perspective and seeing how the state can help, which is great because the community colleges have been developing just such employer-centric programs, so the timing is perfect.” In fact, he points to Maricopa Community Colleges working with industry for company-specific programs, to see what the company needs are and how the community colleges can best help them out. “This direct collaboration helps get buy-in from companies that utilize the MCCs and gives the students better odds of landing stable and well-paying jobs.” He also credits ASU President Michael Crow for “pushing the envelope of higher education on what a university can do for a community (and the world), but at the same time is insistent on pulling and dragging everyone along with him.”

It is recognized at the state level that Arizona’s educational institutions must provide an increasing number of highly skilled graduates to meet the demand of growth in the high-value sectors, according to Rose. One response has been the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity as a part of Governor Ducey’s strategic vision for economic development in Arizona, ACA 2.0, to bring labor market information resources and state workforce policy under one roof. “This is enabling our workforce development system to set a new standard in data-driven policy and workforce planning,” Rose says.

Another response Rose describes is in the community college efforts Macias refers to above. Rose reports that the Maricopa, Pima and Central Arizona community college systems are partnering to develop a standardized advanced manufacturing curriculum and a “regional approach to building enrollment in those programs in an innovative partnership designed to address the needs of the burgeoning advanced manufacturing sector in the I-10 Corridor between Tucson and Phoenix.”

MCCCD is the largest provider of workforce development in Arizona, and Hasson says it is constantly reevaluating “to identify opportunities to improve.” The recently adopted Maricopa Transformation Plan proposes more streamlined integration of programs across colleges, with single points of entry organized by industry sector. Explains Hasson, “Institutes will share resources, equipment, staff, faculty and curriculum, including consolidating existing disparate resources and systems into a single organizational unit for consistency and flexibility, maximizing the efficiency.”

There is no debate about the value of a college education in today’s “knowledge economy,” and Hillman says one reason W. P. Carey School of Business engages in online degree completion programs is to assist the large number of people in Arizona who have just some college credits. But she notes also, “Not all of the workforce needs to be college graduates. We need to embrace technical training, apprenticeships and other forms of engagement to get people excited about their opportunities in our economy.”

Retail is another important employment sector, employing more than 229,000 in the Greater Phoenix area. Says Rose, “An innovative partnership between OEO, Arizona@Work, Chicanos Por La Causa, Goodwill and others is making advanced technical training available to retail workers. It is hoped that this large pool of retail workers will develop skills and experiences that will make them a critical part of the emerging labor supply for these high-demand sectors.”

Also addressing the retail sector is a new initiative by the nonprofit Center for the Future of Arizona. “CFA launched RetailWorks AZ in early 2017, a first-of-its-kind initiative for the Greater Phoenix area. We bring education and training together with employee development in support of frontline, entry-level retail workers to help them gain the skills necessary to move up the career ladder,” says Amanda Burke, Ed.D., senior director of Education and Workforce. Recognizing that many Arizonans first acquire their work experience as well as professional skills in retail (47 percent of the retail workforce is younger than 35), RetailWorks AZ is designed not only to make it easier and faster for frontline, entry-level workers to advance their careers in retail, but to build Arizona’s pipeline of skilled young talent for adjacent sectors such as hospitality, healthcare and business services.

Business-Education Collaboration

“In recent years, it has become apparent from employers in nearly all industry sectors throughout Maricopa County of the need for a forum for exchange among key employers and college leaders at the District level,” Hasson shares. MCCCD’s Workforce Development Office responded by creating district- and region-wide Business and Industry Leadership Teams to examine the needs of the region as a whole in the highest demand areas of employment need and growth. “Thus far, BILTs have been created for sectors in manufacturing, advanced business services, healthcare, and information technology,” Hasson says. “Through the BILTs, MCCCD convened some of the region’s most influential business leaders to describe their workforce needs to faculty and administrators from across the district, and to identify the actions necessary to establish a pipeline of appropriately skilled students for work-based learning and employment opportunities.”

This is also part of CFA’s raison d’être. “The Center for the Future of Arizona is focused on creating innovative approaches to solve problems in critical areas for the state. To strengthen Arizona’s talent pipeline, we are bringing education and training together to address employers’ workforce needs,” says Dr. Burke. An initiative it developed and is the statewide lead for is Arizona Pathways to Prosperity, designed to ensure more young people in Arizona complete high school and earn a postsecondary credential with labor market value in high-growth, high-demand industry sectors. “We start with the needs of businesses first by working with industry sector partners to identify jobs and skills that are in high demand. We then collaboratively design career pathways for Arizona’s young talent that enable them to earn a postsecondary credential which aligns with industry needs and supports businesses seeking qualified employees to help them grow.”

A broad focus on workforce needs and development exists. But underpinning almost all business today is technology, whether viewed as its own industry or as an operational element of others, and “Keep Your Call Centers, We’ll Keep Our Tech” provides an in-depth analysis of employment and talent pool issues for technology in Greater Phoenix that impact our economy.



Speak Your Mind

In Business Dailies

Sign up for a complimentary year of In Business Dailies with a bonus Digital Subscription of In Business Magazine delivered to your inbox each month!

  • Get the day’s Top Stories
  • Relevant In-depth Articles
  • Daily Offers
  • Coming Events