SIERRA VISTA — Creating an educational system that results in a skilled workforce and economic independence for all students requires collaboration between schools and communities. That message resonated during an annual roundtable on Thursday, an event hosted by Cochise County Superintendent of Schools, Jacqui Clay.
“Our educational system cannot support ‘life’ unless all the parts work together,” Clay said in her opening remarks. “If that doesn’t happen, the system becomes fragmented.”
The Cochise County School Superintendent’s Third Annual Roundtable drew business owners, community leaders, program coordinators, educators and school district administrators to the Cochise College campus in Sierra Vista where attendees heard about Arizona’s educational challenges and successes from a lineup of speakers.
In her presentation, Clay talked about the importance of keeping young people in Cochise County as economic drivers and future leaders.
“Economic independence for our students equates to economic success for the community,” she said. “We need to give our kids motivation, direction and purpose to stay here.”
Aligning labor market efforts with the education pipeline provides students with the academic and technical skills they need to be successful in the workplace, Clay said. Her vision for Cochise County is to provide educational opportunities that will lead to better outcomes for students, workers and employers, thereby ensuring today’s students are prepared for future careers and workforce demands.
Rachel Yanof, executive director of Achieve60AZ, presented a statewide goal that calls for 60 percent of Arizona’s adults — 25 to 64 years of age — will attain a postsecondary degree or certification by 2030.
“We are at 45 percent and are moving up,” Yanof said. “Every county in Arizona is working together. The goal equates to a million more learners across the state.”
Achieve60AZ was launched in 2016 and, while considered an ambitious goal for postsecondary attainment, it has garnered support across the state.
“We want a thriving Arizona where we have a diverse, skilled workforce contributing to a thriving economy,” Yanof said.
As a nonprofit, non-partisan community-based alliance of over 100 member organizations and more than 40 municipalities, Achieve60AZ holds the 2030 attainment goal as the “necessary North Star for what is necessary in education and workforce alignment for Arizona to have a thriving economy for future generations.”
Dan Coxworth, Cochise County’s director of development services, spoke of how Arizona’s economy is economy is doing well, with the third-fastest growing population in the country, behind Florida and Texas. However, the economy in Cochise County is not keeping pace with the rest of the state.
“We have the lowest population growth, low permit activity, and slowest job growth since the great recession in 2008,” said Coxworth, who praised the efforts of Achieve60AZ as essential to the local workforce.
“Without a developed workforce or enough workers, new businesses will look elsewhere, and development doesn’t occur.”
Attracting businesses with high paying jobs that require a credentialed workforce is a vital component in growing and sustaining the local economy, noted Coxworth, who pointed to the potential in Cochise County. Some of those include plans for expanding the port-of-entry in Douglas, the future Villages at Vigneto development in Benson, and wine industry in Willcox.
In order to capitalize on upcoming projects, Coxworth said training and providing a workforce capable of ensuring the future success of Cochise County’s economy is essential.
Vada Phelps of Workforce Development talked about the services her organization offers job seekers and businesses by helping adults, dislocated workers and youth.
“Our goal is to help job seekers obtain employment that matches their skills, abilities and desires,” Phelps said.
Another mission is to help businesses find employees with the skills and abilities that match those job requirements.
Linda Denno, dean of the University of Arizona Applied Sciences and Technology, spoke of career opportunities in cyber-technology and non-traditional BAS programs offered through UArizona.
“Cyber is the most popular program at the college,” she said. “The BAS degrees were put together because we see a need.”
Two young business owners, Jessi Jurek, and Demetry Simonton gave testimonials of their positive educational experiences in Sierra Vista. Jurek advocated for CTE and DECA programs in high school and talked about how the mentoring she received helped her launch her own business, an online clothing line called GYPSI. Simonton, who started a marketing business — Indeh Multimedia Marketing Group — spoke of the importance Achieve60 and providing quality mentors.
As part of Clay’s efforts to improve student success in Cochise County, her goal is to continue to grow positive connections through the community through mentoring, and secondary education opportunities.