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Addressing Arizona’s workforce crisis

Arizona’s reputation for being ‘business-friendly’ has succeeded in keeping and attracting companies in exciting industries, from technology and security to health care and manufacturing.  

While Arizona is rich in talent, we need to ensure that companies have the workforce to support their growth. Many sectors are currently suffering extreme workforce shortages, hampering any efforts to expand their individual growth and overall economic impact.  

Some unique factors are contributing to this workforce crisis. High school students lack career awareness about Arizona’s current, and future, in-demand occupations. Students would welcome learning about roles in advanced manufacturing, such as positions to support our growing semiconductor sector. Additionally, we need to continue building a pipeline of talent in critical industries like health care.  

According to the Office of Economic Opportunity, Arizona’s job growth rate will outpace — by more than three times — the expected overall U.S. average. Arizona will need more qualified individuals to fill these roles. The state can expect a talent shortage due to outpaced economic growth and poor educational attainment. Our state and regional economic development agencies have succeeded in attracting and developing new business, but these gains will need the support of a talent pipeline that can sustain our business-friendly reputation.  

 One way to accomplish this is to improve career development and exploration opportunities beginning as early as middle school. That is what the Partnership for Economic Innovation, Center for the Future of Arizona, and the Arizona Business and Education Coalition are collaborating on to truly make a difference in this arena. And we are doing this by utilizing the transformative Pipeline AZ platform, which is available to career-seekers at any age or experience level. By the time career development curriculum is introduced to students in high school, it may already be too late to help these students appropriately plan for a meaningful and well-paying career right here in Arizona.  

 Arizona has one of the highest rates of opportunity youth, individuals between 16 and 24 years old who are neither working nor in school, which is estimated to be even higher following the coronavirus pandemic. Early career development is a way to pivot young Arizonans into successful pathways that will help drive Arizona’s economy.  

 Together, we worked with the Arizona Department of Education to launch My Future AZ, a new tool built on the Pipeline AZ platform, and made it available for all Arizona public school districts and charter schools. My Future AZ will replace the previous Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP) platform, providing custom dashboards for students’ career development planning and showing resources to support career exploration and discovery. Additionally, My Future AZ takes a “whole family” approach by bringing parents into the career planning journey with their children.  

 We can inspire students to pursue career pathways by exposing them to opportunities earlier in their journey. The online platform supports students interested in careers by connecting them to apprenticeships and internships that offer the benefit of paid training for lucrative career opportunities. Students can learn about career pathways in health care, technology, or manufacturing, and that a career in these fields is both accessible and rewarding.  

Students need robust career exploration and discovery opportunities starting at a young age, so they can better understand the education, training, and career pathways in Arizona. Whether they want to pursue an advanced degree program or find a meaningful and well-paying career right out of high school, helping students better understand their options will prepare them for making the necessary decisions to put themselves on a path to success.   

We would like to see more support for these kinds of innovative solutions. By better preparing students for meaningful careers, we are also supporting the industries of Arizona today and in our future. Pipeline AZ’s partnership between government, industry and nonprofit stakeholders is the perfect example of a public-private model to accomplish important goals for our state’s collective prosperity. 

My Future AZ is a great start to solving our workforce issues, but there is so much more work to do. When we can ensure that every middle schooler in our state has access to robust career development resources, no matter their location, background, or personal interests, we’ll be laying the groundwork to preserve Arizona’s reputation as best for business. 

Mary Foote is the director of Pipeline AZ, an initiative of the Partnership for Economic Innovation.  

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