The United States is at the front end of the greatest talent shortage in its history. The combination of unprecedented global competition, historic low unemployment rates, unacceptable high school dropout rates, and the departure of 80 million baby boomers from the workforce requires better talent supply chain models.

Attracting, growing, and retaining talent has become a battle cry across industry, with many companies and communities scrambling to develop solutions. Specifically, aerospace, manufacturing, construction, IT/cyber, and health care are all concerned about their future talent needs; the problem is exacerbated by the fact that they are all facing the same challenge. Many groups are trying to create their own one-off industry-focused programs to reach students and families earlier in their career exploration and education selection process.

The primary problem is not the tight labor market, innovation moving faster than our ability to train talent, or the lack of workforce development and training resources. The challenge is that we have so many siloed, overlapping efforts that are not strategically aligned at the local, state, and national levels. Students and job seekers are confused and cannot find the information they need when they need it to make informed career and training decisions.

Approximately 75 percent of U.S. high school students believe they must earn a four-year degree to secure a rewarding career. In reality, about 20 percent of future careers will require a traditional college degree, according to the National Skills Coalition. Of the top 50 high-demand careers, only six (12 percent) require a four-year degree. These data show that industry must work more closely with community college partners to strategically position them to provide the cornerstone for workforce and economic development models going forward.

Together, we must drive greater career awareness of all industries among students, even those as early as middle school, so they can identify career pathways that match their interests. We must give them, and their families, the hope and support they need to complete high school and make informed training and education decisions to secure rewarding careers.

The Tucson, Arizona, community is coming together to launch its first comprehensive centralized workforce development and talent optimization solution. This holistic end-to-end model connects and integrates existing workforce development ecosystem resources to provide a trusted and unbiased universal hub to support students, job seekers, and employers across all industries.

Amber Smith addresses workforce issues at the 2018 Aerospace & Defense Workforce Innovation Summit.

In spring 2019, for example, the Tucson Metro Chamber brought the right people, processes, and technology together around a unified goal to create a better model to feed military-trained talent into high-demand aerospace jobs. As part of this holistic ecosystem model, the Chamber hosted a week-long Aerospace & Defense Workforce Innovation Summit with corporate partners (e.g., Raytheon, Cisco), higher education leaders, and community college training partners. The Summit concluded with a two-day demonstration that used the skills-matching technology of PipelineAZ to pre-match local talent, including transitioning military members and veterans, with high-demand positions in aerospace and defense, resulting in 166 interviews in 11 hours and a 68 percent rate of hire. The Chamber, Futures, Inc., Pima Community College, and other partners are now scaling this model to create the first Arizona aerospace and defense talent pipeline solution built around the community college to provide the cornerstone for training and credentialing needs going forward. This model will quickly grow to include other high-demand industries.

This public-private partnership approach strategically links all levels of talent to existing career opportunities, while also providing a career development pipeline directly to education and training partners. Leveraging proven technology, every employer, student, and job seeker can access the resources they need—establishing Tucson, and the state, as a national showcase of workforce innovation and helping to address complex workforce development challenges of today and the future.

Amber Smith

President and CEO, Tucson Metro Chamber


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