Chamber Chatter: Creating viable and attainable career pathways

After last year’s launch of Tucson Metro Chamber’s Workforce Blueprint Initiative — a five-part strategic plan created to enable a regional approach to the issues associated with the region’s workforce and the talent development ecosystem — Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA) has made substantial progress in implementing the Greater Tucson Career Literacy Initiative strategy with the rollout of a comprehensive career exploration and action plan program at Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD). 

In October 2021, conversations began with SUSD to pilot the Greater Tucson Career Literacy Initiative in SUSD’s middle schools in partnership with the Tucson Metro Chamber and CFA’s Arizona Pathways to Prosperity (APTP) initiative.

The collaborative program will launch in the fall at all the middle schools in the district, and incorporates a robust career exploration curriculum, guided activities for students, and provides guidelines and materials for engagement with industry. Importantly, this program at SUSD will serve as the model for other school districts interested in bolstering career exploration for students.

CFA has developed well-planned and supported career exploration curriculum that will enable students to gain awareness and exposure to a wide array of careers, develop employability skills, increase self-awareness and form their occupational identity, develop foundational skills, become positioned to make more informed educational choices and transition to high school and postsecondary with an actionable plan to achieve their career goals. However, it’s not just about having an innovative curriculum.

Aaron Ball, Ed.D., CFA director of College & Career Pathways and member of Tucson Metro Chamber’s Blueprint Steering Committee, firmly believes that it’s how students engage with the information that is most critical. “It’s one thing to have great curriculum and resources. Creating effective and sustainable career and college pathways requires helping students understand career exploration and why it is important, to gain exposure to different careers in tangible ways, and then, of course, the conditions for all of that to be reinforced by informed parents, teachers, and other influences in the community. It requires strategic, interconnected systems working together and that’s exactly what all of us partners are focused on.”

With the partnership of LeadLocal, Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC), The Pima County School Superintendent’s Office, CommunityShare, and The Sunnyside Foundation, CFA directed and facilitated a multi-staged planning process with the district and middle school administrators to develop the district-wide career exploration plan. Tucson Metro Chamber industry members have committed to participate in the Initiative by engaging and introducing students to viable, rewarding career paths through speaking engagements and by supporting classroom projects. 

Going forward, CFA will convene all the partners monthly to identify ways to continue improving direct support for the school career exploration plans to empower students.

CFA’s Arizona Pathways to Prosperity (APTP) initiative has an extensive history of bringing industry and education together to create seamless college and career pathways that increase educational attainment, prepare young people for high-demand career fields, and meet state and regional talent needs.

Career exploration starting at a young age is one critical element in setting students on pathways to long-term success. Yet most young people get little advice about education pathways to careers and possibilities; few families understand the current or future labor market; teachers typically have little interaction with contemporary high-growth industries and know little about labor market data and shifts in education and workforce needs.

SUSD is an example of how schools and districts can fill these gaps through a systems-wide, cross-sector collaborative approach.

Ball stated that the Greater Tucson Career Literacy Initiative “is a shining example of what is possible when an entire community works together to achieve shared goals.”

I wholeheartedly agree. As the director of workforce initiatives at Tucson Metro Chamber, I believe that by sharing the variety of career paths through this Initiative will give Tucson’s southside middle schoolers the opportunity to dream, plan, and achieve. And while making these opportunities accessible has historically been the responsibility of educators, it will be through innovative collaboratives such as this one in which our local businesses, nonprofit agencies, government representatives, community-based organizations along with educators have collectively made this our responsibility.

For more information about the Greater Tucson Career Literacy Initiative and how you can share your industry insight into our future workforce talent in SUSD’s middle schools, email me: fvelasquezjr@tucsonchamber.org.