The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Benjamin Franklin was known to have said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Though these words of wisdom were spoken during the 18th century, they’ve never been more relevant than they are today, particularly in the context of career and technical education, or CTE, and the enormous impact it has on Southern Arizona high school students, businesses, and communities.
Pima Joint Technical Education District is expecting to graduate our 100,000th alumnus this academic year. This milestone moment in our story, which began in 2007 when voters approved a measure that embraced CTE’s potential for putting students on pathways to high-demand and well-paying jobs, wouldn’t have been possible without the support of individuals and organizations that today are reaping great gains.
Each of the six digits in our 100,000-strong community of alumni tells a different story. It’s a story about a high school senior whose dream of becoming an emergency medical technician came true though she didn’t have money for college. It’s a story about a high school junior who loved working with cars and was ultimately hired by a local automotive dealership making a great income as a mechanic. It’s a story about the home-schooled student who now enjoys a successful career as a cosmetologist at a local hair salon.
The one thread that weaves these stories together is CTE. Our tuition-free model is preparing students for the next step on their post-secondary education journeys in some cases, and in others, placing workers directly in the kinds of employment environments that are igniting these young people’s passions while contributing to Arizona’s economic development ecosystem.
As I think about this year’s 100,000th alumnus and the others that came before them, I’m mindful of the impact they’ve had in enhancing Arizona’s competitiveness, through science, technology, engineering, and other programs that we’ve developed with our industry and post-secondary education partners.
I’ve been told by Richard Park, executive director of Sunrise Senior Living at River Road, that our alumni have been some of the best team members he’s worked with in his three decades in the long-term care business. Whenever he hears that a candidate has been through our JTED healthcare program, he said it basically guarantees his interest in hiring them on the spot.
Rocky Mitchell, regional human resources manager for Granite Construction, told me that JTED is critical for attracting and developing skilled talent for tomorrow’s construction workforce. He has hired multiple alumni of our construction, heavy equipment operator, and welding programs, and said each possesses the essential characteristics to be successful in his industry.
Paul Hoffman, CEO of AIS Industries, shared with me that in his 30 years in business, he has never seen a more well-rounded and enthusiastic group of young adults to start what he calls their “forever career” than those who came from JTED.
Finally, there is Ross Potoff, a true CTE champion who donated $1 million to JTED in 2019 because, in his view, he would not have had a 40-year career as a precision machinist at the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences without a skills-based certificate. He believes that skills training opens the door to good salaries and fulfilling work and that JTED is a path to a good job and continuing education without debt.
The voters spoke in 2007, and I consider it a responsibility and an honor to update our community on the impact we’re having on education and workforce development. We’re excited to be crossing the 100,000 threshold of JTED alumni, in this new year we’ve all been eager to welcome, having equipped them with skills they need to enhance our region’s competitiveness and participate in the new economy.
That’s quite a return on the investments of so many.
Kathy Prather is the superintendent of Pima Joint Technical Education District.