Arizona is not producing enough college graduates to fill the high-tech and other professional jobs it will take to finally boost the state out of the basement of personal income, according to a new report released on Oct. 1.
The findings of the nonpartisan Center for the Future of Arizona show the state is “fairly well positioned” to meet the needs of employers who need workers with mid-level skills. These are the ones that require at least some college, an associate degree or some advanced technical training.
“But mid-skill jobs also are vulnerable if new innovations make it possible to substitute technology for human labor or if they can be outsourced overseas,” the report states.
The jobs less likely to be automated or shipped elsewhere are those with at least a college degree. But the report says Arizona is not producing enough of them.
“If current workforce projections are even close to accurate, the challenges will be greater for employers seeking high school graduates and college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or more,” it says.
“We are not producing enough well-educated people for our workforce, both for what we have now and what we would like to encourage to come here,” said former Arizona State University President Lattie Coor, the organization’s chairman.
Coor said he is not minimizing the importance of “mid-skill” jobs, one area where Arizona has more graduates than it needs.
But he said they need to understand that risk of outsourcing or automation. More to the point, Coor said they need to be open to additional training to keep their skills both relevant and needed.
Coor said it isn’t simply that Arizona universities are not producing sufficient graduates to meet the needs. There’s also the problem of those who do get a degree deciding to pursue their fame and fortune elsewhere.
He said surveys have consistently shown that people believe “Arizona is not a particularly good place for talented young people.”
“Part of it is just the sense of culture, the sense that young people want to be, where the ‘buzz’ is, where the millennials like to live,” Coor said. He believes, though, that situation is getting better.
Harder to solve, though, is the question of employment.
“There are limited opportunities in the way our economy is configured for them to have opportunities for them to step up in salary and step up in responsibility,” Coor said.
All that shows up in national statistics.
The report says the state’s prosperity and productivity are declining compared not only to the national average but also many of the neighboring states.
On an individual level, it says the state’s per capita income continues to slide. The report puts it at $39,027. And even after adjusting for the cost of living, that’s less than 85 percent of the national average – and dead last in the country.
The report acknowledges that has bounced around in the boom-or-bust cycles that have affected Arizona. But it says that per capita figure as a percentage of national income has never been lower going back to when the numbers first became available in 1929.
There’s also a political side to all this, with many of the decisions made at the Capitol affecting the factors that create high school grads ready to take on college and provide sufficient opportunities for students to get degrees.
Only thing is, Coor found that Arizonans as a whole just don’t get involved in politics – and, more to the point, don’t try to influence the people making the decisions.
Consider: Just 9.3 percent of Arizonans said they have contacted a public official. Only five states had lower participation rates.
Only 5 percent of Arizonans said they express political opinions online frequently, ranking Arizona No. 49 out of all states and the District of Columbia. It was 47th in belonging to an organization, 48th in working with neighbors to fix something –x and dead last in the percentage of people who attend public meetings.
Some of that, he said, is the fact that most Arizonans are from somewhere else and are not necessarily connected to Arizona issues. Coor said only 36 percent of residents were born here.
That’s also not a new development: Coor said the figure has remained fairly steady since statehood.
“But there’s also not been a kind of culture that grows and reinforces itself to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t like the way things are going you can do something about that,’” he said.
Coor, whose group hopes to affect the future of the state by getting people to focus on critical issues, called that lack of involvement “the Achilles’ heel of Arizona.”
He acknowledged it could be a chicken-and-egg situation: People don’t get involved because they don’t think they can make a difference, and their lack of involvement means their voices are not heard.
But he said the same dynamics can work in reverse. Coor said getting to know lawmakers and other public officials can lead to a belief that there are ways to move the conversation.
“It starts person by person, it starts neighborhood by neighborhood,” Coor said.
“It can’t be done by lecturing people,” he continued. “It can’t be done by making them feel guilty.”