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Southern Arizona Workforce Leadership Academy Closes with Actionable Solutions

Competitive cohort presents ideas aimed at resolving local workforce development challenges

Posted on December 14, 2023 • Category: News Release

Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to bringing Arizonans together to create a stronger and brighter future for the state, is celebrating solutions developed by Fellows who recently completed the organization’s 10-month Southern Arizona Workforce Leadership Academy (Academy). 

The highly-competitive Academy, offered in partnership with The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program (EOP) and in collaboration with Pima Community College, brought together 20 senior-level workforce development professionals from economic development organizations, community-based organizations, educational institutions, public agencies, county and state agencies, professional business or industry associations, and workforce boards.

Throughout the Academy, the Fellows worked to develop innovative solutions to help resolve workforce challenges across Arizona’s Yuma, Pima, Cochise, and Santa Cruz counties.

“The real key to creating positive change and momentum is providing individuals or groups with the opportunity to experience an invaluable broadened perspective,” said Dr. Sybil Francis, Chair, President & CEO at Center for the Future of Arizona. “The Southern Arizona Workforce Leadership Academy enables those moments, and in doing so, fosters a new way of thinking, ultimately leading to the development of innovative, collaborative, and actionable solution-building.”

To mark the end of the program, participating Fellows shared proposals created in groups to:

  • Examine how educational systems can align with workforce systems to address skills gaps in fast-growing occupations.
  • Align partnerships, resources, and funding to develop impactful and sustainable workforce projects.
  • Cultivate collaborations to increase engagement and partnership between local chambers of commerce, economic development councils, service providers, mandated partners, educators, and employers.
  • Empower local small businesses to implement cost-effective retention strategies examining workforce expectations and current trends.

Jorge Rivero is an Academy Fellow and Project Director at Equus Workforce Solutions in Tucson. He said he’s a better leader because of the Academy and hopes the cohort’s proposals inspire other leaders in Southern Arizona to speak up where change is needed, no matter their expertise. Jorge reflects, “The old adage, ‘It takes a village’ is most fitting when it comes to workforce development.”

Kate Lemke, an Academy Fellow and Director of Pathways Development at Pipeline AZ, agrees. She said that cross-sector collaboration was a highlight of the Academy as she found synergies in sectors’ challenges. “It’s hard to explain but when our cohort is together, nothing feels more hopeful.” Lemke explained that Fellows didn’t just want to hear about individual challenges. They wanted to collaborate on creating sustainable solutions to systemic challenges to avoid repeated conversations of challenges in the years to come.

The intensive work completed by Fellows involved in the Academy is vital to the future economic health of Arizona, as the quality and depth of the state’s talent pool is what inspires business growth. In the tech sector alone, Arizona is facing a shortage of more than 20,000 STEM professionals, according to the Arizona Technology Council.

Innovative workforce development across all sectors, from health to retail to education and beyond, is directly tied to the economic prosperity of individual communities and the state as a whole. And, according to CFA’s Gallup Arizona Survey, Arizonans understand that linkage, as residents across the state have expressed a desire for additional good-paying jobs and access to the education and training that is needed to fully participate in a vibrant economy.

“We are very grateful to the Southern Arizona Fellows who have devoted their time and talents to advancing the workforce development field in order to expand access to economic prosperity for all,” said Dee Wallace, Senior Fellow with the Aspen Institute. “We look forward to seeing how their recommendations move forward to benefit Arizona’s workers, businesses, and communities.”

"It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with the great people at the Aspen Institute and Center for the Future of Arizona through our partnership in the Southern Arizona Workforce Leadership Academy,” said Dr. Ian Roark, Vice Chancellor of Workforce Development & Innovation at Pima Community College. “Pima Community College remains committed to doing our part to strengthen the workforce development ecosystem, and we realize that we must do so in concert with our regional partners. Through this Academy we set out to identify and develop plans to bolster the ecosystem, and we have done so. I am so proud of how the Fellows, individually and as a group, have developed a shared vision of prosperity for the working learners we serve."

The Southern Arizona Workforce Leadership Academy, beyond providing an inspiring space for workforce professionals to develop novel solutions, aims to foster community action and collaboration among those in positions of leadership that ultimately breaks down barriers between sectors. Leaders within organizations are invited to join the effort in creating a more united workforce ecosystem, which will not only benefit Southern Arizona counties but improve the region’s overall economic development.

To get started on activating the new strategies and solutions, read the proposals developed by the Academy Fellows and ask questions to engage with the Fellows. Then, start implementing the solutions, adopting the recommendations, or sharing the thought-starters with your network.

The Southern Arizona Academy is the second Workforce Leadership Academy provided in Arizona, and is made possible in part by the Aspen Institute, Thomas R. Brown Family Private Foundation, and the Burton Family Foundation.