PHOENIX — Arizona is not producing enough college graduates to fill the high-tech and other professional jobs it will take to finally boost the state out of the basement of personal income, according to a new report being released Thursday, Oct. 1.
The state is “fairly well-positioned” to meet the needs of employers who require workers with midlevel skills, the findings of the nonpartisan Center for the Future of Arizona show. That means at least some college, an associate’s degree or some advanced technical training.
“But mid-skill jobs also are vulnerable if new innovations make it possible to substitute technology for human labor or if they can be outsourced overseas,” the report states.
The jobs less likely to be automated or done elsewhere are those that require employees who hold at least a college degree. But the report says Arizona is not producing enough of them.
“If current workforce projections are even close to accurate, the challenges will be greater for employers seeking high school graduates and college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or more,” it says.
“We are not producing enough well-educated people for our workforce, both for what we have now and what we would like to encourage to come here,” said former Arizona State University President Lattie Coor, the organization’s chairman.
Coor said he is not minimizing the importance of “mid-skill” jobs, one area where Arizona has more workers than it needs.
But he said those workers need to understand their jobs are at risk of outsourcing or automation, and be open to additional training to keep their skills both relevant and needed.
Coor said it isn’t simply that Arizona universities are not producing sufficient graduates to meet business needs. There’s also the issue of those who do get a degree but pursue jobs elsewhere.
Surveys have consistently shown that people believe “Arizona is not a particularly good place for talented young people,” he said.
“Part of it is just the sense of culture, the sense that young people want to be where the ‘buzz’ is, where the millennials like to live,” Coor said.
He believes, though, that situation is improving. But harder to solve is the question of employment.
“There are limited opportunities in the way our economy is configured for them to have opportunities for them to step up in salary and step up in responsibility,” Coor said.
All that shows up in national statistics: The state’s prosperity and productivity are declining compared not only to the national average but also many of its neighboring states, the report says.
On an individual level, it says the state’s per capita income continues to slide. The report puts it at $39,027. Even after adjusting for the cost of living, that’s less than 85 percent of the national average — and dead last in the country.
The report acknowledges that has bounced around in the boom-or-bust cycles that have affected Arizona. But it says that per capita figure as a percent of national income has never been lower going back to when the numbers first became available in 1929.
There’s also a political side to all this, with many of the decisions made at the Capitol affecting the factors that create high school grads ready to take on college and provide sufficient opportunities for students to get degrees.
Only thing is, Coor found that Arizonans as a whole don’t get involved in politics and don’t try to influence the people making decisions.
Consider this: Just 9.3 percent of Arizonans said they have contacted a public official. Just five states had lower participation rates.
Only 5 percent of Arizonans said they express political opinions online frequently, ranking Arizona No. 49 out of all states and the District of Columbia.
Arizona was 47th in the number of people belonging to an organization, 48th in the number of those working with neighbors to fix something, and last in the percentage of people who attend public meetings.
Part of the reason for that, Coor said, is that most Arizonans are from somewhere else and are not necessarily connected to Arizona issues. Only 36 percent of residents were born here, Coor said. That figure has remained fairly steady since statehood.
“But there’s also not been a kind of culture that grows and reinforces itself to say, ‘Hey, if you don’t like the way things are going you can do something about that,’” he said.
Coor, whose group hopes to affect the future of the state by getting people to focus on critical issues, called that lack of involvement “the Achilles’ heel of Arizona.”
He acknowledged it could be a chicken-and-egg situation: People don’t get involved because they don’t think they can make a difference, but their lack of involvement means their voices are not heard.
But he said the same dynamics can work in reverse. Coor said getting to know lawmakers and other public officials can lead to a belief that there are ways to initiate change.
“It starts person by person, it starts neighborhood by neighborhood,” Coor said.