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  • Innovation key to supplying County’s future workforce

    By Arnold Palacios
    Director, Community Services, Employment and Training

    In late February, about 100 of us who work in workforce development gathered at the University of Phoenix to look at how we can be more innovative when it comes to attracting and training folks for jobs in Pima County. I’m proud of what we’re doing within our County One-Stop Career Center System and with our non-profit partners, but as County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told us, “we can’t rest on our laurels.”

    The County lost about 25 percent of its tax base when the great recession hit. But that forced us to innovate and launch an aggressive economic development program that has brought more than 50 employers and some 13,000 employees Arnold Palaciosto our region. To continue on this path, we have to be nimble in responding to changes in our economy.

    Now, with unemployment at just 5.1 percent statewide, employers are looking to us to fill their employee pipelines. So, we’re again being called on to be innovative. That means offering new opportunities to those who are unemployed or – more likely – underemployed. As Mr. Huckelberry asked us, “How do we get the $12 an hour folks to $18 an hour?”

    For me, the key to developing a strong workforce is starting with our young people. In Pima County, we offer a host of youth programs targeting those in and out of school.

    For example, this summer youth as young as 14 can gain work experience, develop skills and build their resumes with our Summer Youth Employment Program. Each year, we place as many as 1,300 young people in four- to seven-week jobs ranging from office work to customer service to manual labor. It’s a great way for them to learn about good work habits and employer expectations before they take on full-time employment.

    What about youth who – for a variety of reasons – haven’t been successful in high school? The nation’s unemployment rate may be low, but few people will advance very far in life without a high school diploma or GED.

    That’s why the County’s Community Services, Employment and Training Department oversees two different programs that help young people further their education. Las Artes, Arts & Education Center combines structured classroom study with community art projects to allow students to prepare for GED testing. Students are even paid a weekly stipend to offset the cost of transportation, clothing and school supplies.
    Student working on airplane
    Pima Vocational High School is an accredited vocational charter high school for students who may have dropped out of another school. Its small class sizes, employment skills training and caring teachers prime students for success. When they’re not in the classroom, students get practical work experience through internships all over Pima County.

    The training piece comes in when we partner with secondary educational institutions such as Pima Community College and with local employers to help fill that employment pipeline.

    A great example of that partnership is the relationship linking the One-Stop, PCC, several local high schools and a group of employers called the Southern Arizona Manufacturing Partners. Students take precision machining classes in high school, continue on to hone their skills at PCC and are placed in internships with one of the 50 companies that make up the SAMP coalition. Since 2013, that partnership has resulted in more than 100 student internships with local manufacturers.

    Employers are bringing on new employees trained with the skills they need to follow in the footsteps of retiring colleagues. Young people are equipped to advance in a field with outstanding growth potential. This video gives a great overview of the partnership.

    These programs and initiatives are an important part of the economic development efforts in Pima County. But, as the County Administrator said, we can’t rest. We’ll continue to be innovative and move folks up the ladder. The way to get Pima County to that next level is through workforce and workforce training.
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