As a strong school system and an educated workforce continue to be hot topics, jobs are being left on the table as companies continue to struggle to identify a qualified workforce.
So we applaud Gov. Doug Ducey’s leadership and the Arizona Legislature’s bipartisan support to settle the K-12 inflation funding lawsuit. While the settlement doesn’t solve our state’s long-term or short-term funding needs, it is a step in the right direction for Arizona schoolchildren who represent the future pipeline of college-going and career-ready graduates who are critical to businesses and our overall economy.
While we celebrate the successful passage of that bill, more still needs to be done. Another important step is the restoration of funding for Joint Technical Education Districts (JTEDs). Those budgets are set to be slashed by $30 million (almost half of their current budget) in fiscal year 2017 based on this past legislative session. JTEDs are public high school districts that provide Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to high school students, as well as students less than 22 years of age. CTE prepares youth and adults for a wide range of high-wage, high-skill and high-demand careers.
Throughout the process of meeting one-on-one with more than 140 companies in the Greater Phoenix region, we’ve heard loud and clear that identifying a qualified workforce is not only a challenge for existing businesses, but it is the No. 1 factor for companies looking to relocate to Arizona.
In short, CTE is the direct connection to labor-market needs.
We recently had the opportunity to tour West-MEC’s new Southwest campus, a top-notch facility that provides incredible resources to prepare students for a variety of occupations in energy and construction technology, IT security and medical assistance. Forty-six high schools participate in West-MEC, serving 21,000 students throughout several campuses and other satellite locations. In addition, the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) represents the eastern part of Maricopa County and offers more than 30 occupational programs in graphic design, nursing, cosmetology, aviation, welding, veterinary science and construction, just to name a few.
If funding for these CTE programs continues to be restricted, then so will the pipeline of career-ready workers. As a result, business leaders will be faced with the decision of whether or not to expand in Arizona and may look elsewhere.
Now that Arizona is on stronger fiscal footing, we hope the governor and Legislature continue on this pro-education path by restoring the CTE funding next legislative session. Arizona needs a qualified workforce. Building a strong workforce pipeline will ensure just that.
-Mike Huckins is vice president of public affairs at the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Jennifer Mellor is vice president of economic development.