America is dealing with an unprecedented shortage of skilled labor. The Department of Labor reports that while there are 7.6 million unfilled jobs, only 6.5 million people were looking for work. This is the same situation in Arizona.

The industries seeing the largest talent gap are construction, health care and personal care, followed by computer and mathematical occupation. Better than average employment and a shortage of employable workers may leave the Arizona economy in a tough spot.

Career and technical education (CTE) programs may be the answer. CTE program education gives students the academic, technical and employability skills needed for workplace success.

A local Arizona CTE public school district is preparing more than 37,000 students from 48 high schools in the North and West Phoenix Metropolitan area with the skills and certifications needed to obtain a career in the industries that desperately need young talent to help replace an aging group of tradespeople who are getting ready to retire.


Greg Donovan is superintendent at Western Maricopa Education Center.

The skills gap in construction is well known. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age, leaving a large space for younger workers to step in. In fact, according to the 2019 Wells Fargo Construction Industry Forecast, the utmost cost concern of contractors was access to qualified workers.

CTE programs, like the one at Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), help to prepare students to enter both the commercial and residential construction industry. Students learn about safe work practices, construction diagrams, concrete and masonry equipment, concrete formwork, concrete placement methods and finishing techniques, structural concrete and masonry applications, inspection protocols, product testing, and quality control.

Specialized programs are a good way for students to develop into a specific niche, which will be important as the industry continues to move forward in the age of automation and technology.

At West-MEC, the Electrical Trade Specialty program introduces students to the elements of electrical systems. Students perform maintenance on electrical circuits, work with control systems and install lighting, and motors.

CTE programs often even provide opportunities to learn and work in a real-life scenario. The Energy and Industrial Technology Program at West-MEC is run in close partnership with APS, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Facility and Estrella Mountain Community College.

This model of hands-on-learning strengthens both general knowledge and specific skill sets, ensuring students are prepared and qualified for future opportunities.


The healthcare industry is expected to add 3.8 million new jobs by 2024, according to the Labor Department’s projections. While nurses and physicians are the most visible positions in the industry, this growth will impact everyone. Phlebotomists, pharmacists, clinical hospital staff, physical therapy and medical technicians are among the positions that will see the most growth.

Fortunately, CTE programs are available for such opportunities.

The West-MEC Pharmacy Technician program teaches students pharmaceutical services alongside licensed pharmacists in a pharmacy setting. Students learn medical terminology, pharmacy law, quality customer service, pharmacology, preparing prescription medications, and administrative duties such as inventory of drugs and pharmacy operations.

Students who go through programs for Medical Assisting receive clinical and administrative knowledge, including how to properly administer injections, take vital signs, record EKGs implement basic accounting procedures. Once the program and certification test are completed, graduates are entry-level medical assistants.

Computer Science 

Research suggests that nearly one million technology jobs will be unfulfilled by 2024. Employers in the industry say the problem is that college computer science programs were designed to teach theory, not engineering education and practice.

The CTE education model is staunchly dissimilar. For example, students pursuing education in coding software development, they actually learn how to design and develop software and applications on the desktop, websites and back-end programming, and write and test computer code.

In IT Security, students learn to secure computer networks and manage risk. Students even learn ethical hacking defense, troubleshooting Linux OS and mitigating security risks.

CTE graduates entering the computer science and technology field find they are ready to jump into their next opportunity.

As the workforce ages out of their skilled labor positions, it is necessary to replace them with professionally qualified and certified talent.  Without CTE options, these industries would suffer greatly.


Greg Donovan is superintendent at Western Maricopa Education Center.