Tag Archives: education

The Business Community Is Ringing A Cautionary Bell On Further Cuts To The State’s Education System

The Business Community Is Ringing A Cautionary Bell On Further Cuts To The State’s Education System

Good schools are good for business. It’s that simple. Contrary to popular belief, incentives and tax breaks aren’t necessarily the only things businesses take into account when considering a move to Arizona or an expansion of a local operation. Sure, they want to make money, but the quality of the education system, from K-12 through colleges and universities, also is a key element in the decision-making process.

In early July, $3.2 billion in budget funding for the K-12 public education system was restored after initially being cut by Gov. Jan Brewer in a line-item veto. The education budget was also increased by $500 million, which now qualifies the state for $2.3 billion in federal stimulus money. Despite dodging that bullet, schools remain under the threat of future budget cuts, and that has caught the attention of business leaders. But paying attention isn’t enough. They need to be more involved in the process, insiders say, establishing and maintaining working relationships with state legislators who control the purse strings.

The business community has a stake in education on two fronts, says Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials (AASBO), which provides professional development opportunities for individuals working in all jobs in the education field.

“One,” he says, “is the ability of the education system, both elementary and secondary and the universities, to prepare an adequate work force, and to make sure schools are adequately funded so they can carry forth their mission of having an educated population. So when the business community hires people, they’re hiring people who have the skills and training to be productive workers.”

The second aspect involves Arizona businesses that are recruiting workers from out-of-state or businesses that are considering an expansion to Arizona from elsewhere.

“If those workers have school-age children, they want to know what the school system is like,” says Essigs, AASBO’s director of government affairs. “If they feel that their kids are not going to get a quality education, it might make them hesitant to leave where they are. They might think twice about taking a promotion and putting their kids at a disadvantage in a school that’s not up to the standards they want.”

Robert E. Mittelstaedt Jr., dean of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, says most businesses are far more concerned about the general education environment.

“I remember a bank official in Philadelphia 25 years ago saying he couldn’t find a receptionist who could read and write,” Mittelstaedt says. “You still hear that. Companies expect to have an education system that graduates students who are qualified to enter the work force in some minimally accepted level.”

If the public schools fall short, perhaps because of inadequate funding, the option of sending children to private schools becomes a cost factor for employees.

Javier Rey, vice president-operations for State Farm Insurance’s Tempe operations center, says it’s critical that Arizona’s youth are better prepared for higher education, so they can contribute to the nation’s and state’s civic, economic and social advancement.

“The quality of schools is a factor that businesses look at when considering relocating or expanding,” Rey says.

Christopher Smith, manager of government and regulatory affairs for Cox Communications, calls education “critical to economic development.”

“It is an essential ingredient in the lifeblood of our economy, both nourishing the supply of talented workers and attracting and retaining the customers they serve,” Smith adds. “Education ranks high on the various lists of important factors in location/relocation decisions, not only due to the increasingly critical competition for knowledge workers, but also because executives making these decisions care deeply about the education of their own children.”

Smith gives Arizona’s education system reasonably satisfactory grades, but says the status quo is not good enough to meet today’s challenges.

“We need to break the mold a bit and unleash more of what made America so great — liberty, bold innovation, inspired risk-taking, creativity, robust competition and an unflagging entrepreneurial spirit,” he says.

Susan Carlson, executive director of the Arizona Business & Education Coalition (ABEC), a nonprofit K-12 education policy advocacy organization, says the business community needs to be more involved in the school-funding process.

“Business needs to be engaged in the conversation,” she says. “They need to watch what the Legislature is doing. We can’t keep saying ‘no’ around tax reform and ‘yes’ around increased skills for students. It may take more money, if money is allocated to the right things. It’s going to take being focused on research-based strategies. Educators are willing and committed to support research-based strategies, and redirecting some of the funding that exists.”

West Valley Industry Turnover

WESTMARC Unveils The Results Of A Work Force Labor Market Study

What started as an initiative from the city of Surprise Economic Development Department quickly turned into an unprecedented work force study on the entire West Valley spearheaded by WESTMARC. The study came about through a collaboration of communities, corporations, government entities and educational institutions that contributed more than $150,000 to fund the report.

“West Valley communities have experienced tremendous growth since the 2000 Census. They were having difficulty addressing questions from business prospects concerning the size and skill levels of the regional work force,” says Surprise Economic Development Coordinator Megan Griego, who sits on WESTMARC’s economic development committee and was chair of the Workforce Labor Study of the West Valley. “The communities of the West Valley formed a consortium to better understand their region’s work force and to better promote its growth and development.”

Russ Ullinger, senior project manager of economic development for SRP, and WESTMARC co-chair and member of the economic development committee, adds that the concept for the study developed out of necessity.

“Numerous surveys and studies have identified work force as one of the most important assets when national site selection consultants consider different regions and locations for businesses,” he says.

“This is relevant in good economic times, as well as poor economic times. This study truly drills and provides specific labor information unique to the West Valley.”

Harry Paxton, economic development director for the city of Goodyear, who also acted as co-chair of the study, credits WESTMARC’s partnerships with the Maricopa Work Force Connection, as well as Maricopa Community College in the development and funding of the study. He also praises WESTMARC for bringing together work force professionals to get their input on what the study should entail.

In May 2008, WESTMARC enlisted California-based ERISS Corporation to prepare the comprehensive labor market analysis.

“That analysis involved a survey of all businesses in the West Valley with 20 or more employees — all such businesses were contracted and 1,100 completed the survey — and a detailed review of newly available government information,” Griego says.

The detailed data developed by the survey and the analysis of various government data sources is also available through www.usworks.com/westmarc, which presents the comprehensive information and data relevant to businesses, site selectors, economic development professionals, work force development professionals and educators into convenient and customizable reports.

The results of the study can now help the 15 West Valley communities represented in the report to identify their specific needs when it comes to work force issues, transportation and industry growth, and demand. For example, Glendale encompasses more than 6,000 firms, according to the report. Health care accounts for more than 12 percent of total employment in Glendale, which is higher than the Metro Phoenix area as a whole (9.1 percent), but is on par with other West Valley cities. The results also show that 19.6 percent of Glendale workers live and work in the city. The majority of other Glendale employees travel from Metro Phoenix (35.3 percent) and as many as 1.3 percent commute from Tucson.

In general, the study found there are more than 450,000 workers available to fill jobs for the right offer. In addition, there are growth and expansion opportunities in the industries of transportation, wholesale trade, traditional and non-store retail, as well as education. Regarding industry growth, health care leads the trend with a 6 percent growth rate. Construction and transportation/utilities follow closely with a 5 percent growth rate each, and retail in the West Valley has a 4 percent growth rate.

As part of the study, businesses were asked to rate their own work forces on a scale of one to seven, one representing the lowest productivity rating and seven the highest.Sixty-six percent of the area’s employers ranked their employees in one of the two highest categories.

Absenteeism is also a non-issue when it comes to West Valley workers as a whole. The majority of employers, 63 percent, reported that absenteeism is “not a significant problem” at their firms, and when absences do occur, 61 percent of employers reported that the cause is a legitimate illness with childcare.
Jack Lunsford, WESTMARC’s president and CEO, says ERISS Corporation did an excellent job with the study and the results have given them a course of action.



“We found that we have in the West Valley, even in this economy, a very large and qualified labor supply, and we still have some industries that are currently growing and that anticipate growth,” he says, adding that results also show West Valley communities need to implement a live/work/play strategy to avoid the problems with transportation issues.

Landis Elliott, business development director for House of Elliott, says the benefits of the study are numerous. “The study is a tool that the West Valley cities can use while working with potential locates to validate the high-quality employees we have in this region,” she says.

Growing Number Of Health Care Professionals Are Getting Their MBAs

Growing Number Of Health Care Professionals Are Getting Their MBAs

Despite the sluggish economy and rising unemployment, a growing number of health care professionals are headed back to school to get an MBA and increase their value in the job market.

A recent survey by the Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Management Education showed an 18 percent increase in applications to graduate programs across the country for 2009-2010. More than 5,500 applications were submitted to the commission’s 83 accredited programs in 72 colleges and universities, and close to 2,100 were new students. The health care workers who signed up for MBA programs are from organizations such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, consulting firms, health insurers, government agencies and pharmaceutical firms. Doctors, nurses and health care specialists are also going back to school for their MBAs.

“We encourage all physicians to go back to school and get an MBA,” says Amanda Weaver, executive director of the Arizona Osteopathic Medical Association. “They need the education as a survival mechanism because of the managed-care environment and the reduction in Medicare fees. In the 1980s and 1990s, doctors did well in business. Now it takes a concerted effort.”

Marjorie Baldwin, director of Arizona State University’s School of Health Management and Policy in the W.P. Carey School of Business, said about 60 percent of students in the MHMS program at W. P. Carey are health professionals seeking to move into leadership positions; the remaining 40 percent have other backgrounds, but want to move into the health care field.

“Health care is a growing sector with opportunities for leadership and many people know that,” Baldwin says. “MBAs bring a lot to the table like knowledge of accounting and financial practices. They also think analytically about the way health care is provided and the way resources are utilized. They understand strategy, how to lead an organization and how to communicate with various constituencies. They bring a keen interest to the core product of the health care industry, which is patient care.”

The health care industry will generate 3 million new wage and salary jobs between 2006 and 2016, more than any other industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care continued to add jobs in February, with a gain of 27,000. Job growth occurred in ambulatory health care and in hospitals.

The W.P. Carey School of Business graduates more than 1,000 MBAs annually. It offers two MBA health options: an MBA with a specialization in health care and a concurrent degree MBA/MHSM (Master of Health Sector Management). The MHSM also is offered as a stand-alone degree. The W.P. Carey MHSM is the only accredited program in health management in Arizona. Tuition for the MBA programs is roughly $35,000 for two years, but there is a payoff.

A survey conducted by ASU alumni in 2006 showed that 100 percent of MBA graduates landed a job within three months. The starting salary for MBA graduates is approximately $80,000 per year.

“There are many complexities and differences between the health care and business sectors,” Baldwin says. “Our students at ASU take economics with an MBA business core. Economics is built around supply, demand and competition. But health care doesn’t work that way. We don’t decide what we’re going to buy and sell. Health care providers decide what we need. We also don’t pay for it, the insurer does. People going into the health care industry need to understand this.”

Michael Abeles of Banner Estrella Hospital earned his MBA in 2005 from the University of Phoenix. He left the trucking industry to go back to school and now works alongside senior leadership at the hospital on employee development, talent mapping and employee relations.

“In today’s market a bachelor’s degree helps you get ahead, but it’s the MBA that provides you with better opportunities,” he says. “Companies need well-rounded leaders that can read and understand financial statements, work force planning and legal risks. So going back to school and increasing your education can only help your journey and assist you in becoming more competitive in the job market.”

Paul Binsfeld, founder and CEO of Company Nurse, worked for years before going back to college for his MBA. As a result, he was able to share practical business experiences with classmates and learn from them.
“I acquired a wealth of business information when I went back to school for my MBA and it gave me enough confidence to start my business,” he says. “It also permitted me to raise funds, tackle administrative and hiring issues, market my business and assess my capital needs. And I’ve been building my business, clientele and success ever since.”

Binsfeld started Company Nurse in 1997. The Scottsdale-based firm provides nurse medical triage and injury-management programs for thousands of employers across the country. Company Nurse has grown 400 percent in the last four years. Starting this year, growth will be 20 to 30 percent annually, Binsfeld says.

“Health care spending is not going down and there are lots of inefficiencies in the delivery of health care in this country, so everyone from physicians to administrators to nurses could benefit from more business acumen,” he says. “With an emphasis on cost savings and efficiencies today, an MBA is a logical step.”

Philip Francis Chairman and CEO, Petsmart

First Job: Philip Francis

Philip L. Francis
Chairman and CEO, Petsmart

Describe your very first job and what lessons you learned from it.
I’m going to give you two. I grew up on a farm, so the first thing I remember is cleaning up barns and building fences and bailing hay, and I worked for room and board. What I learned is to get a good job and get a good education. And straight out of college, I was an assistant nature director at a 4-H camp. I controlled the 10-year-olds and smart 12-year-olds who knew more about nature than I did.

Describe your first job in your industry and what you learned from it.
In terms of a real job, I was a trainee out of college in a grocery store, and what I learned is it’s all about the customer.

What were your salaries at both of these jobs?
Assistant nature director was room, board and $200 a month. And my first full-time job (in 1971), was $13,500 a year, and I thought I was rich.

Who is your biggest mentor and what role did he or she play?
The guy’s name was Winslow Smith, now deceased. He was president of the small grocery business that I had gone into. And, he let me go as fast as I could, as long as I performed. I am (now) willing to put young people in at or over their heads … if they’re good performers, they can go.

What advice would you give to a person just entering your industry?
Get a varied, rather than a narrow set of experiences early, and if you’re in a business where there are operations, make sure you include operations early in your career. If you can be in a good finance job early, but never learn the operations of the business, you’re going to top-out quicker than somebody who understands what really goes on in the business. That’s why I said get a varied set of experiences.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing instead?
Well, I like what I’m doing. I think at my age and stage I would be doing something in the give-back mode. So, I’d probably be working for a social service agency or group of some sort helping other people, old or young, who can benefit from help.

ROI on mba

Higher Degrees Are Still A Solid Investment In Corporate America

If ever there was a time for a Master in Business Administration to pay dividends, this is it. In a troubled economic climate, experts say businesses are more careful about who they hire. Having an MBA opens doors to jobs and salary levels otherwise out of reach, and it provides a layer of protection against downsizing.

When the economy is in a downturn, the employees businesses let go first are the least valuable. People who are investing in themselves, gaining new skills through an MBA, send a signal to the marketplace that they are the one a business wants to keep.

Gerry Keim, associate dean for the W. P. Carey MBA in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, says MBAs are better off in the job market under any circumstances.

“They’re more likely to get hired in today’s environment than people without an MBA, and when the economy is booming and everybody is getting hired, these are the people who tend to move up,” Keim says.

Craig Bartholomew, MBA, vice president/director of the Phoenix Campus of the University of Phoenix, says economic downturn, slow market and rising prices are terms being used to describe the current economic landscape.

“The word recession is looming over everyone’s heads, employers are hesitant to add staff, and one’s climb up the career ladder may look like it is coming to a sudden halt,” Bartholomew says.

Earning an advanced degree goes a long way toward enhancing one’s economic future.

“Initially, it might seem like a risky investment, but trends traditionally indicate that now is the time to gain a competitive career advantage through a higher-education degree,” Bartholomew says. “A slow economy is temporary, but higher education is a long-term investment that can make a professional more valuable today and in the future.”

But Keim doesn’t necessarily believe that having an MBA in and of itself makes a difference.

“The market is very discriminating,” he says. “Having a degree is not enough. Having an MBA from a school with a very strong program is a good investment. You have to have skill sets and mind-sets that enhance your ability to manage in today’s business world.”

Last year, 97 percent of ASU’s MBAs landed jobs within three months of graduation, and the program was on target to match that mark in 2008. In what Keim calls “a very down economy,” salaries and bonuses are in the upper $90,000 area, perhaps even six figures. MBAs are making almost double what they were before entering the program, he says.

One of the key elements of the MBA field involves competition. Schools compete for the best students and the students compete against one another for the best jobs. Competition among students gets especially tense. Earning an MBA from an elite, private university can cost upwards of $120,000, compared to $32,000 for a full-time student at ASU, Keim says.

Some students from elite schools, such as Harvard, wind up owing $100,000 when they graduate.

“Our students graduate with virtually no debt,” Keim says. “They get to take home their entire salary. I’d say that’s a pretty good investment.”

Richard Bowman, area chair for graduate business at the University of Phoenix, a faculty member for 16 years and a financial planner, sums up the value of an MBA, telling his students: “You will run into a point in your career that to move up to the next level, a master’s degree is required or desired. If you want to be promoted to operations manager, director, vice president or general manager, you will not be competitive without an MBA degree or a master’s in general.”

An advanced degree is also vital in the military if an officer hopes to rise above the rank of captain, Bowman says.

Pursuing an MBA online has the advantage of flexibility. Bowman says he has taught students online who were in such places as Iraq, Kosovo, Japan, Great Britain and China. It’s convenient for mid-level managers who travel a lot, he says, but there is little opportunity for interaction with other students and the instructor.

He tells of working mothers who are full-time employees.

“After they put the kids to bed, they can do their master’s degree,” Bowman says.

Students involved in cheating are more likely to engage in unethical practices such as insider trading.

University Of Arizona Program Teaches Undergrads The Importance Of Good Ethics

In the 21st century, incidents of corporate malfeasance have become commonplace. America witnessed the implosion of the onetime energy wonder Enron, the fall of telecommunications giant WorldCom, and the collapse of mortgage miracle Countrywide, just to name a few.

Not surprisingly, questions were quickly raised about the role business schools played in such scandals, the implication being that B-schools encouraged the blind pursuit of profit maximization and a “winner-take-all” mentality. While such fiery rhetoric is provocative, it’s important to point out that such pursuits run counter to the basic tenets of long-term, sustainable business practices taught in business classes.

While B-schools certainly have a role to play in promoting ethical practices, such a tremendous responsibility can’t fall squarely on the shoulders of B-schools. It is our families and institutions in society that must also demonstrate and reinforce personal and professional ethics.

Even though a host of ethics initiatives, centers, and/or institutes bubbled up across the nation in response to highly publicized cases of corporate corruption, nearly all are situated at the graduate level among MBA students and centered on matters related to corporate governance. The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona launched its ethics program in 2003, and it was met with interest and enthusiasm for being markedly different.

The Eller ethics program, E-tegrity (Eller Integrity), is aimed at undergraduate business students and is focused on connecting academic integrity in the classroom with future behavior in the workplace. As research suggests, student behaviors demonstrated in the classroom can carry over into careers. Put differently, students involved in cheating are more likely and at-risk to engage in unethical practices such as insider trading.

From the onset, E-tegrity was supported by Eller College Dean Paul Portney. Leadership from the top is always imperative to begin and maintain any program. Equally important is the buy-in from faculty and students. Faculty affirmed that the college had a responsibility to promote ethics and were invigorated with the prospect of establishing a culture of strong ethics. Students also proved deeply interested. With this broad base of support, E-tegrity began.

Prior to the start of the fall 2003 semester, faculty were asked to take three simple, but important measures in their classes: (1) include a college-adopted student oath statement on syllabi that addressed both academic dishonesty and academic misconduct, (2) formally handle all academic integrity cases, and (3) use the anti-plagiarism software (Turnitin.com) purchased by the college.

The code of conduct statements on syllabi would help ensure that faculty sent a consistent message to students. Formally handling cases would encourage that due process would be followed and cases would be officially reported. The anti-plagiarism software would help deter and detect plagiarism, which accounted for 70 percent of university academic integrity violations in 2002-2003. By adopting these measures, the faculty would take on the primary responsibility for the enforcement component of the program.

Because E-tegrity called for a cultural change in the college that centered on student involvement, in the same fall 2003 semester, students were invited to apply for membership to a new student organization known as the Eller Board of Honor and Integrity (EBHI). EBHI would ultimately be charged with the educational component of the program, working with students on a variety of innovative programs to help raise awareness. Members of EBHI would: (1) Develop a student oath that would be administered to students upon entry to the college; (2) offer presentations to students on the importance of ethics, whereby they not only promoted, but were expected to exemplify personal integrity and ethics among their peers; and (3) assist with the organization and delivery of a series of new and innovative programs that have come to define E-tegrity on a national scale.

Ultimately, the programs of E-tegrity are aimed at three levels: K-12, collegiate and executive. At the K-12 level, there is the High School Ethics Forum. EBHI members facilitate discussions among the city’s top high school students on matters related to personal and professional ethics. At the university level, there is the Eller Ethics Case Competition, in which top B-schools from around the country send their very best students to compete in a three-day event that challenges the ethical reasoning of students. At the executive level, there is the partnership with the Tucson Chapter of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) where students from EBHI comprise a single vote in the BBB’s Annual Business Ethics Awards process. In the near future, EBHI members will also serve as teaching assistants in the college’s first ethics course. In this capacity, EBHI members will assist with the course objective of promoting ethical decision-making.

Over the past five years, E-tegrity has gained traction and matured as an ethics program. By connecting academic integrity in the classroom with future behavior in the workplace, the college motivates students to examine their personal values and consider all stakeholders in their decision-making.E-tegrity has been the recipient of various awards for excellence, and innovation has provided meaningful guidance to B-schools around the country looking to address and support ethical behavior on the part of undergraduate students and future business leaders. The real payoff will come in several years, when we begin to graduate students whose entire college career will have taken place in an atmosphere of high standards that are clearly articulated, widely honored, and vigorously enforced.

Paul Melendez is the founder and director of the ethics program at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. For more information on E-tegrity, visitugrad.eller.arizona.edu/etegrity

Custome Fit EDU 2008

A Custom Fit EDU

By Don Harris

From two hours to two years, customized education programs are being offered to boost the performance and expertise of executive-level employees — and as a result improve a company’s bottom line.

Often, businesses struggle with putting the right person in the right leadership position. Even then, there might be gaps between what the person knows and needs to know. Customized programs are designed to fill those gaps.

cutome_fit_edu 2008

The focus of universities is on education, not necessarily training. There is even an executive education program that puts upper-level employees directly into community service through nonprofits as a way to help those in need and at the same time generate new skills and ideals that will benefit the employee’s own business.

Andy Atzert, assistant dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, and director of the school’s Business Center for Executive and Professional Development, says the center aids companies by expanding the knowledge and skills of managers and leaders, but doesn’t do tactical training, such as how to write a business plan.

The types of industries that utilize the center, Atzert says, include financial services, health care, technology, semiconductors, automotive, agribusiness, supply-chain services, information systems, and two major out-of-state oil companies.

“There is a demand outside Arizona for the expertise that we have,” Atzert says. “In fact, a majority of the companies are from out of state, and many of those are engaged in our online program.”

When Atzert says customized, he means customized.

“Some companies want a two-hour seminar, others want a customized MBA program that will take two years,” he says. “We deliver the program at company locations, at ASU or online.”

Because many companies have global work forces, the online option is getting increasingly popular. It’s more costly to send a person to an off-site location, not because of the travel expenses, but because of the time involved in being off the job, Atzert says.

Many of the courses offered focus on supply-chain management, which is a business discipline that has to do with how goods and services are bought and moved from one location to another.

For example, Toyota faces several supply-chain challenges in obtaining all the parts and materials needed to build an automobile. Atzert identifies questions the ASU program helps answer, such as what is needed, where does it come from, how do they buy it, how do they decide what to buy, how do they work with their designers, and what’s the best way to optimize their efforts and expenditures?

At the University of Phoenix, AZ LeaderForce is a program that pairs key business leaders with local nonprofits in a yearlong project to help improve the various organizations’ services and train those executives seeking leadership guidance.

Rodo Sofranac, University of Phoenix curriculum developer, says the program benefits businesses in a number of ways, including quality-of-life awareness, increasing leadership skills, and ethics.

“The issue is for participants in a project to take what they have learned and experienced back to their workplace and incorporate it in their personal life,” Sofranac says.

The University of Phoenix, which provides classroom facilities, produces a curriculum and donates its services for AZ LeaderForce, works with the Collaboration for a New Century, an organization formed about 10 years ago through the efforts of Phoenix Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo. Topics covered include ethics, integrity, leadership, critical thinking skills and the social responsibility of business.

Steve Capobres, executive director of the Collaboration for a New Century, says the organization targets poverty issues and enlists the business community to work with human service agencies.

cover_october_2008

“At the same time,” Capobres says, “we have an executive leadership development program going on. We not only want their time, we want to mold them, cultivate them to become the next generation of business leaders. It’s a yearlong curriculum that takes them through the issues of what a good corporate citizen is. What does it mean to work in the community? What is your own leadership style, your ethics? It’s all about building good corporate leaders who are going to replace our older, retiring leaders.”

Among the corporate participants are Salt River Project, Bank of America, UBS Financial Services, State Farm Insurance, Lennar Homes and American Express.

“By taking people outside the world of business and putting them in the community to deal with the issue of poverty,” Capobres says, “those employees are going back to the company to be a better manager.”

wpcarey.asu.edu
www.phoenix.edu
www.thecollab.org

AZ Business Magazine October 2008 | Previous: Big Money… | Next: At Your Service
West-MEC provides career and tech training

West-MEC Provides Career And Tech Training To West Valley Teens

Keeping with its goal of enhancing the education system in the West Valley, WESTMARC is a major proponent of West-MEC — the Western Maricopa Education Center District. West-MEC is a public school district that provides Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs to more than 21,000 high school students in the West Valley. West-MEC was formed in 2002 after eight west side communities voted to form the Western Maricopa Education Center. Today, 12 districts and 39 high schools make up the West-MEC district. Not only is WESTMARC a business partner with the school district, but also, President and CEO Jeff Lundsford is on West-MEC’s governing board.

Greg Donovan, West-MEC superintendent, says combining efforts and expenditures allows West-MEC to offer students more than any one district could offer alone.

“Some career and technical education programs require a lot of very expensive equipment,” he says. “Individual districts may not have the space, money or expertise to offer such programs, so we help fund the programs and provide the necessary equipment.”

West-MEC programs include classroom instruction, laboratory instruction and work-based learning. Some of the career and technical education programs offered include business, finance, marketing, technical and trades, and health occupations. A school district works with local business and industry to build educational links to employment and continuing educational opportunities. Business leaders such as Mike McAfee, director of education for the Arizona Automobile Dealers Association (AADA), which represents and supports all new car dealers in the state, work with the school district. They help determine employment sectors to focus on the type of programs and equipment needed for training.

McAfee helped Peoria High School become the first high school in the West Valley to earn NATEF Certification from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and offer a class that teaches brakes, steering suspension, electrical and engine performance. High school students in the West-MEC district can take the same automotive classes at Glendale Community College. Ford, GM and Chrysler provide new vehicles and equipment for the program at no cost to the college so students can train on new vehicles. Gateway Community College has the same type of partnership but with Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Kia.

“With more than 230 million cars and trucks on the road today, demand for highly skilled techs is going to continue,” McAfee says. “So when we employ students in their junior and senior years, we want them to continue their education.”

Experienced technicians typically earn between $30,000 and $60,000 annually in metropolitan areas. Incomes of more than $70,000 are not unusual for highly skilled, hard working master technicians, according to the AADA.

Stephanie Miller, a graduate of Willow Canyon High School in Surprise, wanted to explore a career in health care, so she took a two-part, CTE lab class during her senior year. When the class was over she was certified as a phlebotomist in Arizona. Miller’s certification landed her a job at Sun Health Del E. Webb Memorial Hospital, where she works as a part-time phlebotomist. She also attends Arizona State University and is taking classes to earn a degree in physical therapy.

“This is my first job and I make well over $10 an hour so I consider myself lucky,” Miller says.

Justin Rice, 19, a graduate of Centennial High School in Peoria, took automotive and medical CTE classes during his senior year. The Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) classes were held at Glendale Community College. Since Rice was in high school, he did not have to pay the $800 tuition for the EMT classes.

“If I hadn’t had this opportunity, I would still be saving to take the classes today,” he says.

Rice now works as a part-time EMT for First Responders Inc., which provides medical support during Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns games, and for Little League games.

West-MEC opened a new cosmetology training center in July for students who attend high school in the West-MEC district. The 10,000-square-foot facility in Peoria is operated through a partnership between West-MEC and Gateway Community College’s Maricopa Skill Center. The center opened with 240 students and next year, enrollment will increase to 480 students, which is the center’s capacity. Students who complete the state-required minimum 1,600 hours of instruction will be eligible to take the state cosmetology board exam to become certified cosmetologists.

Chris Cook, West-MEC’s director of marketing and public relations, said the two-year cosmetology program costs $1,200 instead of $8,000 to $15,000 for the same program after high school.

A 2007 survey conducted by the National Accreditation Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences showed that owners of Arizona salons are hoping to hire more than 6,800 individuals this year.

“Students benefit greatly from these programs,” Cook says. “It’s a stepping stone to a career or post-secondary education.”