Workforce creation in Yavapai County boosted by public-private partnerships
PRESCOTT - Central Yavapai County may have grown as an urban community over the past decade or so, but when it comes to economic perspective, it's still considered a rural area, and that means challenges for building a diverse workforce.
"Rural workforce development must take a contextual and different path than urban workforce development," said Alex Wright, director of the Yavapai College Regional Economic Development Center.
Compared to urban centers like Phoenix or Tucson, the Prescott area has a lower population density and fewer capital resources.
But to its credit, the area boasts several private and public education institutions that allow workers to seek additional training and certification.
Those include both pre-graduate programs like those offered at Mountain Institute Joint Technical Education District (JTED), as well as higher education programs at colleges and universities.
Often overlooked within that structure are vocational training and certification programs. Some programs include an associate or bachelor's degree, while others may be a more targeted certification.
Wright said certificate programs, which can be completed in as little as a few weeks, are one way for workers to add to their existing skills and open new career possibilities.
She explained certificate programs can often work together, creating what she called "stackable" skills and credentials that workers can use to improve their employability.
But she said the trend at the start of the century was for people to seek degrees, and not the specific skills training that employers want from job candidates.
"We actually have a good amount of resources in this county, but it's been dysfunctional for at least the last 16 years," she said.
Wright said since Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 1998, education and labor organizations have been directed to work together on creating workforce training programs that support regional economies.
The idea was to bring together several governmental services, including vocational rehabilitation, administered by the state's Department of Economic Security to assist people with disabilities; and adult basic education, administered by the Arizona Department of Education, to provide literacy, employment, postsecondary education, and training to people older than 16 who are not enrolled in a K-12 school.
Yavapai County is its own workforce district, and there are federal and state funds available within the district for workforce training. Funds awarded through the workforce district can subsidize education and training, recruitment, and, to a limited extent, wages.
Workers who meet income eligibility requirements can access money through the state's One-Stop Service Centers.
Yavapai County's One-Stop centers in Prescott and Cottonwood are both managed by the Northern Arizona Council of Governments, a quasi-governmental nonprofit corporation.
Wright was critical of the structure and schedule of Prescott's One-Stop center, which offers only orientation services Monday mornings and workshops Thursday afternoons.
Though many other services are available throughout the week, she said many workers can't meet the schedules of the One-Stop center.
Wright said there's also a connection lacking between the local economic demands and the services offered through One-Stop centers.
Fortunately for workers in the area, nonprofit entities such as the Goodwill Career Center in Prescott have been able to fill some of the gaps.
Director Dee Skipton said the Goodwill Career Center offers career advisers as well as training in job search skills, similar to services offered through One-Stop.
But instead of receiving government funding, the center's operations are funded by the organization's thrift stores.
"The most important thing is the experience a person has when they come into the career center," Skipton said.
She explained the center is set up to not just help jobseekers with skills like interviewing and resume-building, but also connect employers with a pool of candidates. Employers, too, can use the center, which is equipped with multimedia meeting rooms, for their own workforce development. The center has worked with companies like UPS and Uber to connect businesses that want to expand with workers that already have some or all of the skills needed to get hired.
Wright said the approach at the Goodwill Career Center is the type of partnership between nonprofits, businesses and other groups that helps build a region's workforce.
She said it's a good fit with Yavapai College's efforts in workforce training.
"Yavapai College is really interested in being an employer-driven vocational institute," she said.
The challenge will be getting workers trained with the right skills for the jobs that are available.
Wright said the 10-year projections for the area show more jobs in health care, food service and hospitality, complementing existing jobs in manufacturing and agriculture.
"We have to leverage our federal resources with our local resources," she said. "That's how we change an economy."