By Sally Downey
Career and technical education (CTE) is making a lot of headlines in Arizona as the 14 Joint Technological Education Districts and the schools they serve grapple with how to handle looming budget cuts. The East Valley Institute of Technology is also concerned about a decrease in funding, but encouraged by Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to restore $10 million a year over three years through competitive grants, focusing on programs that train workers for high-need employment sectors.
This reflects what we do every day at EVIT: Develop a workforce that meets the needs of business and industry.
Often, industry comes to EVIT requesting help in filling a need for skilled workers such as health-care technicians, plumbers, diesel mechanics and machinists. EVIT responds by developing programs for high school students and adults that offer hands-on lab experiences and internships, preparation for industry credentials leading to jobs, and dual enrollment college credit to give students a head-start on post-secondary education. We don’t do any of this in a vacuum; every program has an advisory council of industry representatives who ensure that our students are being trained to the latest standards.
By the time a student completes a CTE program, he or she should be ready to go into the workforce. It might be the job they’ve chosen as their career, or it might be an entry-level position to make money while going to college in a related field. For example, many alumni from EVIT’s health programs work as certified nursing, dental or veterinary assistants while going to college to become registered nurses, dentists or veterinarians. They often have little trouble finding employment because their EVIT training came with valuable work experience made possible through internships and externships offered by our business partners. It’s a win-win for our students and industry.
Over the past 15 years, Thorobred Chevrolet in Chandler has hired over 20 students from the EVIT Automotive Technologies program, which is certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) to prepare our students for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications. Service director Steve Marley said Thorobred knows that EVIT students will be “disciplined, skilled workers.” In the last 18 months, Nichols Precision in Tempe hired a half-dozen students from our Machining Technology program because, as company president Dante Fierros said, the EVIT students have a strong work ethic from a school with “a proven track record and certification process.”
Schools like EVIT that provide high quality career and technical education are in a good position to help Arizona come back strong from a recession that resulted in so many in our state losing their jobs and businesses. Sundt Construction gave EVIT’s Construction Technologies program a check for $5,000 this month. This followed many other donations of equipment and supplies this year to our construction program by Okland Construction, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, and the Association of the Wall & Ceiling Contractors of Arizona. The construction industry in Arizona is making a comeback – and they want EVIT to help them do it. This is good for the industry and for students who want to work in construction.
I’m very proud of EVIT’s centralized campus programs at the Dr. A. Keith Crandell (Main) Campus, East Campus and Apache Junction High School, and our dedicated instructors who are training Arizona’s future workforce. Like any other JTED or school district in Arizona, EVIT is not perfect -- but we are always striving to improve. All EVIT programs provide hands-on lab experiences and/or internships, nearly all of our programs lead to professional industry credentials, and 16 programs now offer over 200 hours of college credit through partnerships with area colleges. Our students at EVIT’s centralized campuses have a 96 percent high school graduation rate, two out of three go on to college, and 87 percent are in jobs, college or the military within one year of their training.
Our strongest programs are those in which the instructor has embraced working with business partners to ensure that curriculum, equipment and training are of high quality. I have no doubt that all of our programs will raise the bar if there is the opportunity to vie for a competitive grant. Obviously, the devil is always in the details. But if career and technical education is truly training students to be competitive in today’s economy, then we should welcome working with business and industry in a competitive process that strengthens outcomes.
We also should welcome working with our governor and elected leaders to improve the quality of career and technical education for all students, parents, and industry in Arizona.
Dr. Sally Downey is superintendent of the East Valley Institute of Technology.