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Tech industry, university leaders discuss workforce challenges with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

Phoenix Business Journal

A group of tech industry and university leaders met with U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema this week to discuss how Arizona can best meet rising demand for skilled workers.

The Arizona Technology Council led a July 17 roundtable discussion at Benchmark Technologies in Tempe. Executives from Lucid Group Inc., Intel Corp., SRP and leaders from Maricopa Community Colleges, Central Arizona College and Pima Community College were in attendance.

For the industry executives at the roundtable, boosting funding opportunities for skilled trade programs and continuing community college and private sector partnerships were top of mind.

There’s a need to build excitement around manufacturing jobs in the automotive industry, said Jeri Ford, vice president of business office operations at Lucid Motors.

“Some of what we do in the automotive industry is quite an artistry and those are some things that we can continue with K through 12 grades, in terms of building those skills, and providing a very good job path that we think is just critical,” she said.

Lucid Motors is building phase two of its manufacturing plant in Casa Grande and the company could benefit from more construction resources.

The automotive industry in general has a long value chain and the ability to attract suppliers to the area would also be beneficial, Ford said.

“We’re a very labor intensive sector, so it’s very important that we have that continuity for success,” she said.

Intel exec: ‘Develop partnerships across the board’

Dawn Jones, chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of social impact at Intel Corp., said the company launched its Quick Start program last year in partnership with Maricopa Community Colleges to train students in semiconductor technology.

Intel has entry-level positions with ability to upskill employees and it’s important that students have opportunities to pursue non-traditional career pathways, she added.

“And we need to develop partnerships all across the board to be able to make that happen,” Jones said.

Pinal County has attracted several semiconductor suppliers and companies, some of which include Lucid, Nikola Corp., and Taiwan-based Jing He Science Co.

Arizona Central College has aligned some of its curriculum in partnership with Maricopa Community Colleges and Pima Community College to ensure employers will have trained workers, said Andrew Clegg, executive director of career and workforce training at Central Arizona College.

A growing concern is having enough training space and funding to expand it, he noted.

Central Arizona College is home to Drive48, a facility intended to prepare students for automotive manufacturing jobs. Lucid Motors conducts basic and advanced training for some of its technicians at the facility, Clegg said.

“The wonderful thing about having this on site is we get the relationships with their instructors,” he said. “Their instructors are now also our adjunct instructors, so it’s great because we’ve got the ability to get their experience as we’re building our curriculum.”

Clegg said, however, residents need jobs immediately and don’t necessarily have the time to complete an associate’s degree, prompting a need for stackable credentials or short-term programs to accelerate their careers.

Sinema: Expand Pell Grant eligibility

Sinema said it’s imperative to deepen relationships with state agencies, colleges and the tech industry as well as change the Pell Grant system to provide funding for career and technical education programs.

Sinema co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to expand student eligibility for Pell Grants that could used for career and technical education programs providing 150 to 600 hours of instruction over eight to 15 weeks. Currently, Pell Grants can’t be used for programs fewer than 15 weeks.

“So we’ve got to change that, which is why I think my legislation to make programs flexible is so important,” Sinema said.

Arizona had some 201,180 tech industry jobs in 2022 and added more than 5,000 new jobs that year, placing the state No. 16 in the nation for net tech employment, according to CompTIA’s State of the Tech Workforce report.

Arizona is expected to add an estimated 6,677 new tech jobs in 2023, representing projected growth of 3.3%, according to the report.

Last week, ASU and Applied Materials Inc. announced plans for a research, development and prototyping facility at ASU Research Park to bolster the Valley’s growing semiconductor industry.

The Materials-to-Fab Center is expected to be up and running in two years and the 10,000-square-foot facility will span three floors and provide students, faculty, startups, industry partners and other colleges in the state access to Applied Materials’ state-of-the-art 300 millimeter manufacturing equipment.

Applied Materials is launching an endowment fund to provide scholarships to first-generation and underrepresented minority students in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. In addition, the company is creating the Applied Materials Momentum Fund, which provides grants to women pursing undergraduate degrees in engineering at ASU.


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