For Arizona’s economy to create and sustain high-growth, high-wage jobs, our education system must develop students whose skills thrive in a globally, competitive world.
Current and prospective employers in Arizona need an education system that prepares graduates for the employment and educational opportunities of the 21st century. Right now, the gap between what business needs and what skills our students have is among our greatest challenges.
Unfortunately, Arizona has consistently had one of the lowest-ranked education systems in the country. This problem results in workforce issues for existing businesses and influences those companies looking to relocate into the Phoenix region.
Last year, we asked our members about their business’ growth prospects and workforce needs. The results were eye opening:
• Nearly 71 percent of our responding members were planning to expand their business.
• However, 62 percent of them encountered challenges hiring the talent required to meet their business needs.
The greater Phoenix business community is presenting a unified front: Arizona needs to implement programs within the education system that best serve our students, employers and entrepreneurs to set a strong foundation for the region’s economic future.
Our friend and partner, Pearl Chang Esau, president and CEO of Expect More Arizona, said it well: “We need to make sure that high school diplomas in Arizona mean what they are supposed to mean – readiness for post-secondary education without remediation.”
Expect More Arizona, a nonpartisan, nonprofit focused on advocating for a world-class education for all Arizona students, cites that 53 percent of our state’s students don’t qualify to enroll directly in a state university. Additionally, 59 percent of students who attend community college are taking remediation courses.
In 2010, Arizona took a step in the right direction by adopting the new standards in English, Language, Arts and Mathematics. Arizona College and Career Ready Standards have been implemented throughout Arizona public schools in grades K-12. Along with effective classroom instruction and investments to support the transition, the standards will transform classrooms from memorization factories into learning epicenters — creating leaders, entrepreneurs and a dynamic workforce for the 21st century.
The new standards and a new assessment will take our students to a new level — helping them compete nationally and internationally. Further, our employers will know that a diploma from an Arizona high school means an education and skills to use on day one of the student’s career.
In the 2014 legislative session, the business community will join Arizona’s educators to champion the commitment needed to support the new, higher standards and a high-quality aligned assessment, which will replace AIMS in favor of a test that truly indicates college and career readiness.
For the Phoenix region to continue to rise from the ashes of the Great Recession, we need to work together to align our workforce needs with educational outcomes that matter to employers. Let’s work together to ensure Arizona’s students receive the world-class education they deserve and our economy demands.
— Chad Heinrich, vice president, public affairs and economic development, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.