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Spurgeon: Industry partners are the key to West-MEC’s prosperous future

A picturesque view of the downtown Phoenix skyline — a budding tech sector. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)
By: Dr. Scott Spurgeon | Point of View

Industry partners are essential to Western Maricopa Education Center’s future as a career and technical education school district. West-MEC can be like Blockbuster and wait for others to catch up or West-MEC could be like Netflix by adapting to its environment, continuously innovating and changing the game.

Many CTE programs have difficulty finding highly qualified industry professionals to teach its highly technical courses. This is where partnerships with industry professionals are beneficial. Collaborating and bringing in business leaders and employees to share and demonstrate their industry knowledge for a period could not only help students learn, but also give local organizations an inside look at the next generation of job-ready individuals.

Dr. Scott Spurgeon

The first step in growing our resume of industry partners is making West-MEC available to the community. West-MEC is part of the Arizona Commerce Authority for the first time in its history and is actively involved in petitioning companies to come to Arizona, specifically the West Valley.

West-MEC works on the front end with these businesses, rather than them coming in to pursue talent and workforce solutions months later. There are considerable opportunities to attract more companies to the West Valley and work with businesses to make West-MEC even better tomorrow than it is today.

The ideal industry partnership benefits both the business and the students. West-MEC’s partnership with the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) organization, for example, is one that West-MEC would like all future collaborations to look like.

Students who successfully complete the electrical trade specialty program are awarded a year-one credit in the IEC apprenticeship. The apprenticeship is a four-year model; after completing the first year, students are interviewed, hired by an IEC contractor and sponsored for the next three years of the apprentice program. Students are not obligated to complete the apprenticeship but repeatedly take the opportunity to receive paid, hands-on training – learning more as they complete each phase of the instruction.

Through this partnership, students receive an outstanding opportunity and IEC receives an influx of job-ready employees eager to join the field.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to close, reduce their employees, or launch work-from-home initiatives, making it much harder to gain new industry partners. This has led to less opportunity for West-MEC students to get jobs, internships and work-based learning opportunities.

Now, as the quagmires of the pandemic recede, West-MEC’s goal is to double its efforts and think creatively about gaining new and effective industry partners. West-MEC wants to be at the forefront of changing the paradigm of how businesses and education collaborate.

The new partnership model ensures courses are aligned to industry standards and provides the best talent pipeline for companies that are trying to fill the employment gap.

We are calling on business leaders to join this new model of a talent pipeline partnership. West-MEC hopes to see this plan expounded on and put into action, but no matter what, always remember it is a great day to be at West-MEC.

Editor’s note: Dr. Spurgeon is superintendent at the Western Maricopa Education Center.

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