This conceptual image shows the new JTED Innovative Learning Campus at The Bridges on Tucson’s south side, at Park Avenue and Interstate 10.

The Joint Technical Education District is the beneficiary of another philanthropic gift to help take the program into the future.

Recently, the Rotary Club of Tucson pledged a minimum of $250,000 to JTED.

Now Ross Potoff’s foundation, Potoff Private Philanthropy, has pledged $1 million over the next several years.

Before he formed his foundation, Potoff gave $50,000 to JTED in 2016 and 2017. In 2018 he agreed to give another $250,000 over five years.

Now he has upped the donation through the foundation so that it will increase each year until $1 million has been reached.

The foundation’s executive director, Bill Westcott, announced the news of the gift at the JTED completion ceremony May 17.

Potoff said he and Westcott want to give the students in JTED a jump-start in the job market. They hope the money can be used in part to hire a guidance counselor who will seek out employers and help suit the job to the student and vice versa.

The goal is to reach into the community to see what businesses really need, and then modify the curriculum to suit these manufacturers or shops.

While many students are college-bound and many are learning computer skills, there are still trades like plumbing, welding, cosmetology and mechanics where the job is still done by hand. Often the industries are coming up short and not able to hire enough trained people.

If JTED students have the opportunity to work on the equipment actually used in the industry they want to join, that shortens the time for new employees to become productive. This kind of hands-on learning can save employers time and money, since it takes less time to train a new employee who already has experience.

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Westcott said those who recently completed JTED came out licensed or certified in their chosen field, ready to work at jobs that usually pay much better than minimum wage, and they have no student debt.

He said they are confident and have been taught the soft skills. They shake hands, look people in the eye and show respect for others. They are taught to act like adults at school and on the job. The graduates are marketable people with marketable skills, Westcott said.

Westcott said businesses will be more likely to relocate to Southern Arizona if there is a pool of workers with the skills they need. This is better for the local economy, the businesses that hire the graduates and for the graduates themselves.

Potoff went to a vocational high school on the East Coast and has worked for almost 40 years at the University of Arizona Optical Sciences Department.

“I can’t think of anything better than to give some young people a chance at a great future,” Potoff said.

Contact Johanna Eubank at jeubank@tucson.com

Johanna Eubank is an digital producer for the Arizona Daily Star and tucson.com. She has been with the Star in various capacities since 1991.