Star 200: Southern Arizona's companies set the rules in workforce match game

At employers' urging, OneStop training stresses punctuality, teamwork
2013-04-28T00:00:00Z Star 200: Southern Arizona's companies set the rules in workforce match gameCarli Brosseau Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Economists and analysts' predictions used to determine how governments focused their jobs and training resources.

Now the companies that want to hire help set the priorities.

Pima County OneStop, the region's primary employment and training agency, has an eight-member business-services team whose job it is to address employers' needs.

It constantly surveys employers to identify worker shortages and skill gaps, and then brings industry representatives together to help design the response.

"I think that's a huge shift to have competitors in the same room working toward a solution," said Jim Mize, who leads the business-services team. "You've got to get them all to sit down or it doesn't work."

Engaging employers in designing solutions to specific problems has encouraged feedback in general, and OneStop has been getting more calls from employers who have a problem that they think OneStop might be able to solve, he said.

By also working more closely with the organizations that provide the training OneStop pays for, the agency has been able to ensure that the training being provided in the community actually responds to employers' needs.

For example, when OneStop employees followed up on an employer's mention that Tucson had a shortage of precision machinists, they learned that employers thought graduates of Pima Community College's machinist-training program were still lacking the skills they needed.

Almost all of the local employers interested in hiring graduates participated in designing a new curriculum that will launch at the college in August, Mize said.

The team also created a new internship program that will teach high schoolers to be machinists and provide them with part-time jobs in the industry.

A similar process was used to design programs to bring in more trained professionals in supply-chain management, health-care and hybrid-vehicle technologies, and focus groups are soon to address a shortage of welders and electronic health-records specialists.

Local officials and business leaders involved in economic development and workforce development agree that there are plenty of job-training programs out there and that the programs are getting more targeted to what employers need.

They are worried about a more intractable problem than a lack of technical skills - the increasing prevalence of potential workers without basic employability skills, such as punctuality.

"We can give them training, but we can't get them to work on time," Mize said. "I don't care how good you are, but if you don't get to work on time, you're going to get fired."

OneStop emphasizes these soft skills in its programs, as do the jobs programs at the Tucson Indian Center and the Joint Technical Education District, or JTED, which provides more than 13,000 high schoolers vocational training each year. But the problem persists across age groups.

"Employers say that they're more than ready to train but they're not finding people with the appropriate level of seriousness," said Noreen Nelson, a member of the Pima County Workforce Investment Board, which is appointed by the Board of Supervisors to provide oversight and recommendations on local workforce policy.

Nelson thinks that the problem is, at least in part, a generational phenomenon. Millennials didn't experience as much emphasis on soft skills, including how to work within a team, she said.

She would like to see more attention paid to young people, in part to impart these skills, as well as to provide the more rigorous science and math education needed to address the country's shortage of engineers.

Many others agree with Nelson that more scrutiny of the link between K-12 education and employability is needed.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild is especially interested in dropout prevention and parents' involvement in their children's early education.

"People try to separate education and jobs, but education is an economic issue," Rothschild said.

He plans to launch a robocall and public-service announcement campaign about education soon.

Although there is agreement, at least locally, that programs for youth are the weakest link in the region's workforce development strategy, these programs are among the most financially stressed.

JTED, the primary provider of technical-education classes for teens, saw a sharp funding cut from the state Legislature in 2011, forcing it to eliminate programs for high-school freshmen.

Administrators fear that the cut could result in the overall decline of the success of the program - which boasts a graduation rate about 99 percent for its students compared to 83 percent overall - because many students decide whether to drop out in their freshman year.

Sunnyside Unified School District recently voted to eliminate dropout-recovery teachers and coordinators. Tucson Unified School District, which has created a pipeline of science and math education through magnet schools, has at the same time had to reduce the number of counselors and librarians, among other staff.

In many ways, it has fallen to the Pima County Library System to pick up the slack.

Librarians offer drop-in and one-on-one job help, computer classes, English classes and a slew of online skill-building and research resources.

They refer back and forth with OneStop, and more than 100 people use each of 25 job help computers each month, said Michelle Simon, the job-help hub's coordinator.

The library has also expanded its homework help offerings - in person, by phone or online - and it helps anyone get connected with the basic community services they need.

"We recognize that it's hard to look for a job when you can't pay your electric bill or don't have child care," Simon said.

Contact reporter Carli Brosseau at cbrosseau@azstarnet.com or 573-4197. On Twitter @carlibrosseau

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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