Forging Pathways: Rio Salado, Tempe Collaborate With Local, Federal Partners to Champion Advanced Manufacturing Prosperity


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Friday, February 23, 2024
photo of panelists during the event
photo of another panel plus the crowd at the event
photo of panel students and moderator: Marci Ferrell, Jarom Agustin, Eric Sorenson, Hannah Watkins

From L to R: Marci Ferrell (Rio student), Jarom Agustin (Rio student), Eric Sorenson (CTE director, TUHSD) and Hannah Watkins (CTE student, Marcos de Niza High School)

Rio students with President Smith and Rick Vaughn

From L to R: Jarom Agustin, President Kate Smith, Dr. Rick Vaughn and Marci Ferrell

City, county, national and education leaders joined industry professionals during a landmark event earlier this month held at Rio Salado College, “Preparing the Future: Building Tempe’s Advanced Manufacturing Workforce Pipeline.” The convening was designed to chart a course toward a future-ready workforce as part of the city’s work as one of 16 municipalities selected for the National League of Cities’ Good Jobs Great Cities Academy.

The efforts align with the trajectory set by legislative measures like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), said Britt Stich, senior advisor to the Employment and Training Administration at the U.S. Department of Labor.

“It’s making real opportunities in the communities,” she told the audience. “This is a critical component. … This room is a testament to how important that work is.”

Discussions resonated around the need for innovative workforce development strategies tailored to the demands of advanced manufacturing. This will come together, speakers said, through collaboration and training that begins in Tempe’s secondary schools and continues through the efforts of Rio Salado College and Arizona State University, as well as professional development opportunities created by industry and city support. The connections are a crucial bridge between education and industry to close the skills gap and prepare individuals for jobs of today and tomorrow.

“I am looking forward to the impact of focusing our efforts on expanding the advanced manufacturing sector, which I am confident will bring a wealth of economic opportunities for Tempe” said Rio Salado President Kate Smith. “Thanks to the League of Cities’ Good Jobs Great Cities initiative, we have come together to plan how we can connect across the lanes… to develop creative and innovative solutions to further this great work, to further the success of the residents of Tempe and the success of the city as a whole.”

Tempe City Manager Rosa Inchausti shared that the educational pathway created by Rio Salado, ASU, Tempe Union High School District and others is needed to help Tempe industries grow.

“We’ve heard from industry leaders that finding and training qualified employees is still a challenge that we are facing,” she said. “As we put these pieces together we need to come up with new ways to fulfill the needs in our workforce.”

The interplay of city planning, national policy, educational strategies, and industry requirements underscored the collective approach. That was evident during a panel discussion with local industry leaders led by Tempe Mayor Corey Woods. From the current need for workers to future development with more automated systems, it all starts with training and preparing people for jobs, good jobs that can help the workers and their families, they said.

“It’s going to require a completely different skillset for our employees, said Derrill Wolkins with Becton Dickenson. “We’re going to need to partner with the City and our education systems to get employees ready for what’s coming.”

Tempe’s youth and young adults or those seeking career change could make the difference, leaders said. Through CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs in Tempe Union High School District, Career Ready programs through the City, apprenticeship and internship programs with Maricopa County Workforce Development and micro credentials, individuals who want to learn the skills can find the training, in their own communities or online.

Students touted the benefits of being involved in these programs. Hannah, a student in the Tempe Union High School District, entered high school wanting to have a future in forensics. She’s since enrolled in the school’s construction and early childhood education programs. CTE has influenced her life, “In the best way possible,” she said.

“I was bouncing around because I felt that’s what high school is about. I was figuring out what I want to do,” she said, noting she now holds career credentials from her criminal justice studies, a food handler card from cooking and a first aid certificate. “All the certificates I got in CTE helped me explore careers and get a small look into what my career would look like if I went into criminal justice or construction.”

Rio Salado student Jarom Agustin came to the college originally to complete his high school diploma. Today, the landscape worker is aiming to finish an associates degree, while aiming for a future in horticulture.

“Education will help students succeed and transform our lives and support our community,” he said.

Marci Ferrell, a Navy veteran and college graduate who recently finished Rio Salado’s Microelectronics & Nanomanufacturing Certificate Program program, said advanced manufacturing is offering “very interesting highly skilled jobs in the community.”

“From what you’re saying here, there is a big future and I hope to be part of that future,” she said.