Tag Archives: aerospace

Community colleges: propelling workers into STEM careers

Duval Ducey

Here’s a fact that bears repeating: One in five U.S. jobs requires knowledge of science, technology, engineering or mathematics – the STEM disciplines.

And here’s a fact that might not be so well-known: Community colleges award more than half of post-secondary STEM degrees and will play a major role in developing a career-ready workforce that can invigorate our nation’s economy.

The connection between education and the economy has informed recent visits to Pima Community College by Doug Ducey and Fred DuVal, the Republican and Democratic candidates for Arizona governor. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to learn about our Aviation Technology Center, which Inside Tucson Business has termed “one of the best-kept secrets” in Southern Arizona. Located at the western edge of Tucson International Airport, PCC’s aviation facility is the perfect place to see how we’re doing our part to train men and women for well-paying careers in one of the most vibrant sectors of Arizona’s economy.

Fred, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents, outlined his plans for education at the Aviation Technology Center last month. Earlier this week, Doug, Arizona’s State Treasurer, toured the center and met with me and several other College administrators. Thanks to Advanced Program Manager Tom Hinman, Department Chair Eric Ross and others at the center, our aviation program is no longer secret from either of the men who hope to lead our state.

Of course, within the region’s aerospace industry, the Aviation Technology Center has a well-known stellar reputation. PCC is one of only a handful of the approximately 160 FAA-approved schools to have curriculum targeted at commercial jet transports and seems to be the only U.S. school teaching Advanced Structural Repair and Modification, a highly sought after and well-paying skill. Over the past year, more than a dozen firms with local operations have hired our students. Median salaries in the field range from $36,020 to $46,680, not including the overtime/shift differential pay that employees often accrue. It is not unusual for experienced, qualified technicians to earn close to $100,000 a year.

The Aviation Technology Center is one of the areas of the College benefiting from the state’s $600,000 allocation for STEM in 2014-15. We also are using the funding for microscopes and other science lab equipment, laptop and tablet computers for mathematics students, and anatomy and physiology models in our health-related professions courses. By improving the education of our students, PCC increases their employability, and we look forward to working with the state to develop resources in the future.

It’s no secret that Arizona’s rebound from the Great Recession has been slow. That’s especially true for Tucson, which recently was ranked 143rd out of 150 U.S. cities recovering from the economic downtown, slightly ahead of Detroit. Nearly 3,000 STEM positions were unfilled locally in the first quarter of 2013. In PCC’s Aviation Technology Program, the number of students awaiting admission exceeds capacity by 10 percent. Against this backdrop, it is important that all our constituents know what is at stake, and the vast potential PCC has as a launching pad for developing Southern Arizona’s 21st-century STEM economy.

Regardless of who is elected governor of Arizona, I am pleased that both of the major party candidates sought to learn about PCC’s aviation program and our critical role in workforce training. My hope is that the investment of time they made in PCC during the campaign will help shape their decisions once the work of governing begins early next year.

Lastly, let’s not forget that choosing Arizona’s next governor is up to us. I urge all PCC students, employees and community members to make their voices heard in the upcoming election. Doug and Fred made a point to learn about us; we should learn about them. Get to know the issues. Familiarize yourself with the candidates’ positions. Don’t miss this opportunity to make an informed choice on Nov. 4. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 6 and early voting begins three days later, on Oct. 9. More information is available from the Office of the Secretary of State and the Pima County Recorder’s Office.

Sector partnerships: Collaborations for economic growth

I spent some time this morning at PCC’s East Campus, visiting with students at the start of the Spring semester. Hearing their stories always is inspirational – it reminds me why we’re here and gets me thinking about new ways we can serve our community.

Educating students so that they’re ready to succeed in the 21st century is at the top of our to-do list. By aligning resources and priorities with those of area employers and other constituents, PCC has an opportunity to help drive economic development in our community.

That was the message at the heart of a presentation to the PCC Governing Board last week. The presentation was facilitated by the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), an economic development organization whose charge is to transform the state into an economic powerhouse.

That’s a goal we all can get behind, and the ACA website lists seven key industry sectors that represent the best opportunities for expansion:
Aerospace and defense
Technology and innovation
Bioscience and health care
Renewable energy
Advanced manufacturing
Advanced business services

These sectors offer avenues for the College to partner with established local industry to provide the well-trained employees needed for growth. But the key points made at the presentation by economic development expert John Melville involved the complex human synergy needed for the sector partnership process to succeed.

Sector partnerships are employer-driven collaborations among companies in a specific industry cluster. These companies, normally competitors, buy into the notion that growing and expanding the sector benefits everyone. The employers work with governments, educators, labor, economic development groups and community organizations on a holistic approach to growth. Having access to an education pipeline producing qualified workers is a necessary condition to success, but it’s not sufficient. Infrastructure, marketing, government regulation, access to export markets – all must be optimized for growth to occur.

Suffice it to say that a partnership’s success isn’t guaranteed. My experience with similar economic development efforts in Washington state is that a lot of hard decisions must be made by all partners for the process to bear fruit. Often, partners must overcome internal opposition to make the significant changes needed to align their organization with the partnership’s goals and objectives. For the collaboration to succeed, I have found that all partners have to think a little less about “me” and a little more about “us.” The best partnerships are champion-driven “coalitions of the willing” who are truly ready to work together.

Among the first steps in the process is educating interested parties through ACA-facilitated academies that map out the road ahead for the interested parties. An academy for advanced manufacturing is planned for the spring. The College has been invited, and will attend. We welcome the opportunity to cooperate with our external constituents for the tangible economic benefit of our students and the community.