Collaboration between Education and Industry Forges a Stronger Workforce

And creates a welcome new talent pipeline 

by Zac Dunn

While Arizona’s fourth-place ranking for GDP growth per year in the U.S. has attracted an influx of industries looking for a home in the Valley, it also highlights the lack of a “talent-ready pipeline for Arizona’s growing economy,” according to the Education Leadership Group, a collective of more than 50 education leaders from across the state.

That gap can only be filled by the collaboration of education and industry.

Financial services, for example, offers stability, competitive starting pay and plenty of chances for advancement. As industry giants continue to invest in Phoenix, opportunities abound for fruitful careers in the sector.

Yet filling those positions has proved challenging.

“Two years ago, I was approached by one of our employer partners who was having a really hard time getting people within their organization to successfully complete the SIE exam,” says Melanie Burm, director of external affairs, workforce development and community partnerships at Scottsdale Community College.

The Securities Industries Essentials (SIE) exam is, in most cases, a non-negotiable requirement for entering the financial sector. It is administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, and passing the exam establishes that an applicant has a firm understanding of the fundamental principles required to work in financial services. Failure to pass equates to a firm headshake from the bouncer and a stern finger point to the door.

“They had a very strict policy in place where they would hire someone as a consultant; they would give that consultant six months to pass the exam; if the consultant didn’t pass the exam at the end of the six months, then they had to let them go,” says Burm. “Employment was contingent entirely on passing that SIE exam.”

Burm connected that employer with Maricopa Corporate College to develop a non-credit exam prep course, and soon those employees were passing the exam with ease and were eligible for hiring.

The success of that pilot course led the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation to facilitate a wider collaboration between its Financial Services Workforce Collaborative and Maricopa Corporate College, which turned to SCC to create a for-credit course to prepare other candidates for the rigorous exam.

SCC’s unique positioning allowed it to create and implement the curriculum in the span of a few months. Compare this to the typical 18-month course development time for a major university, and it becomes clear why the institutional agility of a school like Scottsdale Community College was attractive when the financial industry was searching for educational partners.

Industry partners in the Collaborative convened by the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation include Charles Schwab, Merrill Edge, Nationwide, U.S. Bank, Vanguard and Wells Fargo, all of which benefit from this new talent pipeline that allows them to quickly recruit these qualified course completers, trading the six-month consultant window for an intensive four-week SIE crash-course that currently boasts a 100% exam pass rate.

The industrial boom isn’t something on the horizon — it’s here, and employers need these jobs filled now. The Collaborative designed the program to rapidly advance students into open positions. In less than two months, students can complete the course, pass the SIE exam, interview and be hired.

By passing the SIE exam, entry-level candidates can earn between $41,000 and $44,000 annually, with salaries increasing as additional industry-related credentials are achieved. Due to the for-credit nature of the course, students can build on the fundamentals as they pursue further licensing and accreditation, opening up new opportunities for advancement.

“Once someone gets into the job using this foundational skill set, the possibilities are endless. After six months to a year, they may be eligible for significant promotions because of their work,” says Burm.

The implications of this kind of collaboration between industry and education cannot be overstated. Partnership between the two to create a more streamlined and effective training and employment pipeline produces candidates who are better prepared for the specific skills they will need to succeed. When employers have a voice in academia, they can influence curriculum to better align with the unique needs of their industry, thereby producing candidates who are better prepared and require less on-the-job training.

The Education Leadership Group found as much in their “Dear Arizona: A Call from Educators” report, concluding that “ultimately, the education system, regardless of its quality, cannot sufficiently train students for careers without an active partnership with industry.”

“This is now the prototype for other industries,” says Burm of the SIE prep course. “It will serve as the model as we emerge from COVID with a renewed focus on the value of education in the workplace.”  

Zac Dunn is a freelance writer based in Phoenix. As the founder of New Summit Communications, he uses his eye for narrative and character to tell the unique stories of organizations that are committed to improving their community, with work ranging from local nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies. 

Did You Know: More than a quarter of all workers are predicted to search for a new job once the pandemic threat eases, according to Prudential Financial. The looming “war for talent” will give employees the pick of the litter when selecting a new job or career.

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