Since it was launched in 2007, the Pima County Joint Technical Education District has helped provide thousands of high-school students with training for real-world jobs.
Now, the Pima County JTED is working with local workforce-development agencies to strengthen ties with employers and create new opportunities with internships, certification and job placement.
Like many high schools, JTED has been working with local employers since its inception.
But the current initiative is intended to target key industries where workforce needs are being unmet and build sustainable pipelines of workers, said Aaron Ball, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer of Pima County JTED.
The latest effort to expand work-based training began this summer with a program in precision machining, and the JTED is looking to replicate that in several strategic workforce areas.
In October, the JTED board was presented with a proposal to create a three-year sustainable plan for developing an internship and job placement program for JTED students in collaboration with employers and industry groups.
The idea is to give the JTED students valuable hands-on-experience, training them to enter the workforce earning livable wages.
The machining internship program grew out of discussions with local aerospace and manufacturing companies facing a shortage of qualified workers, said Jim Mize, with the Pima County OneStop Career Center.
About 25 companies formed a group known as the Machining Industry Sector Engagement Group to focus on new training programs, and about 10 stepped up to offer summer internships to a dozen senior JTED students, 10 from Desert View High School and two from Tucson High Magnet School. The program was partly modeled after a similar program OneStop developed with local logistics companies.
Pima County OneStop funded the first half of the eight-week paid internships, which paid $8.50 per hour, and members of the industry group pick up the rest. All but one of the 12 students — one decided to join the military — completed their summer internships.
They are now attending Pima Community College, which has created a first-
tier machining program for the students and plans to add higher-level courses. Pima OneStop is providing tuition assistance for the interns.
“Now, the pathway is really established for these kids,” JTED’s Ball said, adding that JTED is looking to create similar initiatives in biotechnology, heavy diesel repair and heavy-equipment operations.
“We can only take the kids so far in high school, Pima has to take them to the next level,” he said.
Bob Schlanger, a Pima JTED governing board member and owner of British Car Service in Tucson, said high school students may lack the skills to take on tasks handled by regular workers but gain valuable experience nonetheless.
“Even if they’re sweeping the floor, they’re rubbing shoulders with people in the industry,” said Schlanger, who has hosted interns from JTED-backed auto-repair programs.
The need for qualified workers in the aerospace industry is critical, said Don Theriault, a member of the machining industry group and president of Industrial Tool, Die and Eningeering in Tucson.
“It’s difficult to find a trained workforce,” Theriault said. “We’ve been in business for 40 years, and other companies that have been in business that long, we’d meet at up times and complain about not having a workforce, but we did nothing.”
Theriault said interns his company hosted worked full-time over the summer and have continued to work at the company after enrolling at so-called Tier 1 manufacturing machining classes at PCC.
“They’ve all got jobs while they’re going to Pima,” he said.
The machining group is also pushing to establish a local program for certification under the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS), which offers a variety of certificates for individual skills.
“We hope that by the time they leave Pima, they’ll have an associate’s degree and they’ll have several NIMS certifications, where they can get an above-entry level job,” Theriault said.
With JTED’s help, local high schools have been beefing up their vocational programs.
At the Tucson Unified School District, which offers 41 different career and technical education programs, Tucson High Magnet school has added machining equipment including a computer numerical control (CNC) lathe and CNC mill, partly with the help of JTED funding.
Instructor Ray Wiggins, who has been teaching at Tucson High since 1992, said many schools began shutting down their machine-shop classes as teachers retired, partly because of liability issues and costs.
“JTED was the thing that saved everything,” he said.
While students learn the basics of machining on rows of manual lathes and mills, the new CNC equipment will help prepare students for the state of the art.
“Our entire goal is to get them using it in the shop right out of school,” he said.
Across town at Sunnyside Unified School District’s Desert View High, machining instructor Cesar Gutierriezis trying to beef up the program he started last year.
Besides the manual lathes and drill presses, the school has CNC equipment including a plasma cutter and a 3-D printer for making prototypes. The school also teaches industrial design, using SolidWorks, a leading computer-aided design program.
During a recent class, students were working on manual lathes to create bars with stepped profiles accurate to the thousandth of an inch.
While math may keep some students away, the chance to make things lured Jesus Quinteroto Gutierrez’ machining program.
“I actually don’t like math, it’s pretty weird that I’m here. But it’s not a lot of math, just a lot of numbers,” said Quintero, a 17-year-old senior. “I like to make stuff like little parts, and it’s a great job.”
Another Desert View machining student, senior Desarae Stephens, said she’s more interested in design but enjoys working with metal.
“I like building stuff, and I thought it would be fun to prove girls could do it, not just guys,” said Stephens, who plans to pursue a college degree in drafting or design.
At Tucson High, junior Jake Mozingoproved his mettle at a precision machining competition in Phoenix last spring, winning first place in a contest sponsored by Skills USA, a nonprofit group that supports skilled technical education.
Mozingo said he plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Arizona, but his hands-on background will only help.
“Being an engineer, it’s more than designing things, you have to know how things are made,” Mozingo said.
TUSD students comprise some 9,000 of JTED’s students, and among TUSD’s biggest programs is automotive technology, which is offered at seven district high schools.
Kim Bailey, career and technical education adviser at Tucson High, said it’s her job to connect students with one of the school’s many vocational programs.
At Tucson High, which last year added a collision-repair track to its auto program, about 300 students are in the three-year program each year, Bailey said.
The facility features several repair bays, three vehicle lifts, a large paint booth and tire-mounting equipment.
Tucson High auto student Levi Hart, a 16-year-old junior, is following the footsteps of his older brother, Cody, who graduated from the auto technology program and later qualified to work on diesel engines in the Navy.
Levi said he’s considering following his brother into the Navy, or possibly pursuing certification for auto-body work.
“I like the body work more than the tech side, unlike my brother,” he said.
Collision-repair instructor Monty Flores, who was collision-repair manager at Jim Click Automotive Team as part of a 17-year career there, said Click has been a major supporter of the program.
Students who graduate from the program can work at Click while getting tuition scholarships from the company to attend PCC.
For all the Tucson High career and tech programs, “There is more demand than we can accommodate,” Bailey said, particularly in auto technology.
The school is working toward accreditation to offer students the opportunity to take industry certification exams through National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation, she said.