A new law passed by state lawmakers last month is expected to improve partnerships between local businesses seeking skilled workers and high school students who could become future employees.
The law, HB 2499, allows JTED, the Joint Technological Education District, to lease property from local businesses and school districts in order to teach classes to high school students enrolled in the district's vocational programs.
The new arrangement will allow for more hands-on training opportunities for students, who will be able to use equipment associated with their desired career field, said Tina Norton, assistant superintendent and chief financial officer of JTED.
"It says you're allowed to partner with businesses and use their existing facilities and equipment to offer JTED programs," she said, referring to the law.
Some business leaders say the potential partnerships can help cultivate a highly-skilled workforce that could attract more companies to the area.
More highly skilled workers could also fill job openings with companies already in Tucson.
"I think the passage of the law is important because it will give us an opportunity to be more responsive to the needs of the business community," said Bruce Wright, chief operating officer of the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park and UA BioPark.
Before the new law, JTED could teach classes only at its own facilities or in local high schools in order to receive money from the state.
Now, the district can enter an agreement with any business without losing its funding, Norton said.
The law will cost taxpayers $300,000.
"I think the education community building partnerships with the business community is the future of workforce development," said Republican state Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson, one of the lawmakers who pushed for the bill's approval. "This will create much smaller programs that are more specialized."
JTED can negotiate a lease with a business for any price, meaning, for example, a company can lease property to the district for as low as a $1 per year, she said.
If JTED enters an agreement with a school district, however, it will have to pay market price for the property.
JTED hasn't entered into any new agreements yet, but Norton said the district has discussed possibilities with officials from the BioPark and the Freeport McMoRan Sierrita Mine.
One possibility includes a high school focusing on STEM subjects located at the still-developing BioPark at East 36th Street and South Kino Parkway.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
The school would specifically focus on life and biosciences, Wright said.
The venture would be a three-way partnership between the BioPark, JTED and Tucson Unified School District, he said.
Although discussions have already started, officials have to embark on a long process before the program would start serving students.
Wright said he hopes the three groups can reach an agreement on the structure of the program and its curriculum within the next year.
It would then take another two years to begin construction on the project.
This program, along with others, will be integral in catering to the aerospace and technology industries, as well as attracting more manufacturing jobs to Tucson, he said.
"We are focused on Tucson's high-tech community," he said. "We need to really engage them so we're meeting their workforce needs."
Contact reporter Jamar Younger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger