Virtual Internships Eliminate Barriers to Align Opportunity for Arizona Students with Workforce Needs
Trystan Wright, a 17-year-old senior at Dysart High School in El Mirage, Ariz., is an outstanding student with a laundry list of extracurriculars. He loves to volunteer, played basketball at Dysart until suffering an injury then joined DECA, a club preparing emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers. He traveled across the country with DECA, ranking top three in a national competition, and is now the 2023-2024 President.
Despite these accomplishments, Wright struggled to land his first job. “I’ve applied to six jobs and had three interviews but didn’t get any so that’s a little bit frustrating,” he laments. Until, his Dysart HS Business and Marketing teacher, Leslie Palombo, recommended a virtual internship offered through Center for the Future of Arizona’s (CFA) Arizona Pathways to Prosperity (APTP) in partnership with Work Based Learning Alliance (WBLA). The virtual paid internship connects high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors with Arizona-based companies. The students work in teams guided by mentors and WBLA’s Practera to complete projects solving real-life problems.
The Spring 2023 cohort included 27 students, including Wright, and six employers from healthcare, economic development, energy, and more. Wright interned at Tucson Electric Power (TEP) under Joanne Kingman, Training Supervisor for Transmission and Distribution Operations. He describes the opportunity as “an easy yes.” Throughout the six-week internship, Wright and his fellow team members developed an updated retention and training program for TEP. They utilized artificial intelligence to formulate life-like scenarios and simulators, a highlight for Wright, to digitize on the job tasks.
Wright’s team stretched across the state with some students in Tucson and Tempe. Teamwork is an advantage of the virtual setting and Wright’s favorite lesson. He says, “Not just in college but in the real world or any kind of job, it’s important to know how to work with different people.” Virtual also eliminates other barriers to entry. For example, an employer might not be able to house five interns in-person and students in rural areas might not be able to travel.
Beyond these benefits, for young people, the internships foster necessary skill attainment including independence, confidence, problem-solving, critical thinking, time management, and more. For employers, the program gives companies a voice in workforce development, eliminates paperwork, expands bandwidth, and creates a low-risk environment for trial and error.
According to the Arizona Progress Meters, 48% of Arizona residents ages 25-64 have completed a two or four year degree or have an active professional certificate or license. Yet, as of 2020, nearly 65% of all jobs in Arizona require more education after high school. Programs like APTP’s virtual internships move the needle towards Arizona’s 60% attainment goal aimed at building a stronger workforce. And, Arizonans support these efforts. According to a 2020 Gallup Arizona Survey, 84% of Arizonans agree a highly educated and skilled population is good for Arizona’s economy. “Young people need to have an awareness of an education plan leading to careers in high-demand sectors with livable wages. Those jobs are usually aligned with high-demand sectors in regions that spur economic development in those regions and across the state,” says Aaron Ball, CFA College & Career Pathways Director.
As for Wright, he feels relieved to complete the internship with high remarks from TEP, “It was definitely an eyeopener since I had never worked before.” And, he also feels armed with necessary skills to continue on his career pathway by graduating high school and pursuing a business major in hospitability and tourism potentially at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
Arizona Pathways to Prosperity plans to host additional cohorts and hopes to reach more students and employers, 105 students and 15 employers have participated to date, by collaborating with regional partners to take ownership and dedicate funding to support a defined number of students yearly.
Overall, APTP enables more young people to earn degrees and credentials for high-demand jobs, making it easier for them to enter the workforce and propel innovation and economic growth in the state. The initiative has impacted over 50,000 students in early college pathways at more than 40 middle and high school partners across Arizona. Learn more about strengthening pathways of education to training and careers at https://www.arizonafuture.org/programs/workforce-programs/.