Thank you, Carolyn, for that kind introduction. And thank you to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for the incredible opportunity to join you today. I’m really excited to be here with some great people from our own Arizona Chamber team – Glenn Hamer and Katie Fischer – as well as all the excellent business and education leaders here today. I want to start by acknowledging the top-notch and important work this foundation is doing to address one of the most urgent issues in American education: Closing the Skills Gap.
Before I entered elective office in 2011, my experience was in business. I began my career at Procter & Gamble, got some invaluable experience, outstanding management, and a few years later, started an ice cream company called Cold Stone Creamery. You get a lot of undeserved popularity when you’re in the ice cream business. Let me assure you, you don’t have to worry about that when you’re in elected office. Cold Stone started out small – as most companies do – just a few guys with a whole lot of work ethic, big ideas and, let’s face it – a GREAT product. We took our small operation, and built it to 1440 stores operating in all 50 states, and in 31 countries around the world.
Cold Stone wasn’t successful by chance. Cold Stone was successful because of the people we employed. It’s not rocket science: to run a great business, you need to have the best people. The same applies whether you’re CEO of a company or governor of a state. Employers know what they want and need to be successful – whether it’s the right business environment or the top talent available. The problem for so many employers in today’s economy is that -- what they’re looking for – isn’t available. The skills gap in our country is not a new problem, but it is a growing problem.
When 96 percent of academic institutions believe their students are prepared … but only 35 percent of students actually feel prepared … and just ELEVEN percent of businesses believe today’s graduates are actually equipped to enter the modern workforce -- we have a disconnect. This is what we’re seeing on a national level. Our education and workforce development systems, and the labor force itself, are failing to keep up with the changing needs of a dynamic economy. Employers are struggling to find qualified workers despite high unemployment rates...while prospective employees clearly are not aware of the skills they need to land the career they want.
And as employers continue to modernize, innovate and adapt at a 21st-century pace, they are faced with -- and frankly held back -- by a 20th-century talent pool. Business isn’t going to slow down and wait for our workforce to catch up. And they shouldn’t have to. If there’s one thing Americans are really good at, it’s innovating. We see it every day. Innovation in business. Innovation in technology. Innovation in health care and education. In Arizona, we’re proving government can innovate, too – modernizing our laws to allow entrepreneurs and enterprise to thrive in today’s economy... and taking a fresh look at how we link our educational outcomes to our economic needs.
That’s why in my state we’ve been working hard to not only improve educational results – but to bring job creators into the discussion. Arizona employers have a huge stake in our education. They want and demand the best of the best for their workforce. And we want to make sure that’s what our schools are sending them. There’s no denying that in Arizona, and probably most other states, the skills gap has hit hard in some pretty key areas: medical, technology, engineering, manufacturing and STEM -- and we’re working on that. My aim, like every other governor out there, is to make our state THE number one place in the country to do business.
That requires that we’re successful in both A) attracting talent; and B) producing talent. The attracting part -- we’ve got that down. We’re doing a great job. We’ve already got the advantage of 300 annual days of sunshine, gorgeous weather year-round, close proximity to major markets. On top of that, our regulatory climate is improving at the speed of business, as we take steps to get government out of the way and lessen the burden on job creators. Our focus is on the producing part. Now, I won’t give away too much from our playbook – I can’t have people knowing all ofour secrets ... but there are some great success stories happening in Arizona that I think are worth telling.
For one, we’re making historical investments in public K-12 education ... and in the coming years, Arizona will be among the states investing the most new dollars into K-12 schools – without raising taxes. A strong economy demands excellent schools. We have three of the Top 10 public high schools in the country. We’re in the top-tier of states closing the achievement gap in math and reading. For 15% of our schools, test scores matched elite states in the country, and our public charter school students are competitive with students in top-performing New England states. We have SUPERB career and technical education programs that graduate students at a rate of 98 percent.
Over a dozen industries critical to Arizona’s economic growth have workforce programs embedded in CTE. We are committed to seeing the longevity and accessibility of those programs ... and we will continue to work closely and collaboratively with education leaders, the business community and policy makers on what a 21st-century public education system should look like. In the area of higher education, Arizona stands out. One of the most robust public university systems in America. Two of the top 100 research universities in the world.
Last year, our largest university, ASU, was named the most innovative university in the country...it produced more Fulbright Scholars than any other school...and its honors college was cited by the New York Times as the gold standard of honors institutions. It also happens to be my alma mater, so as you can tell, I don’t mind bragging about it. And for good reason. And since innovation is the name of the game, we’re taking a different, more effective budgetary approach: a new, student-centered funding model that places a priority on Arizona resident students. This will help ensure that our stellar universities remain within reach to our best and brightest students.
Not to be outdone, our community college system is the largest in the country – a national leader in graduation and transfer rates. And, given that our community colleges are Arizona’s largest workforce trainers, we have a stake in making sure they remain on the leading edge. So, there’s a lot of good news to tell in Arizona. I don’t think people in OR outside of our state hear enough of it. And the more we can address the skills gap, the more good news we’re going to see. We recently announced a plan – a new “Office of Economic Opportunity” – that will multiply Arizona’s economic development efforts.
This office will house a “Geek Squad” of experts with access to real-time data that will allow us to respond easier and faster to the needs of job creators. Let’s say a business comes to Arizona, looking to set up shop, and says they’re looking for 100 qualified people who know how to write code, develop software, whatever the case may be. The Geek Squad will help find those people and make that connection. If they can’t find them IN Arizona, they will bring them TO Arizona. And now that we know what the demand is, we can go to the education community and say – this is the demand. This is what businesses are looking for. How can we tailor our workforce development strategy to make sure that’s what we’re producing?
If there’s one good thing to come from the skills gap crisis, it’s that it has jolted us into the 21st century. It took a while – and with a big push by business – but Arizona higher education is not waiting until students come to them. They are going to students, and asking them how they can help steer them in the right direction toward the postsecondary path that will best serve their future. Our K-12 schools seem to have gotten the memo, too. We have spectacular career and technical education programs...more schools are offering college preparatory programs...and let’s give the kids some credit, while we’re at it.
When I visit with them, they may not know exactly what they want to do...but they know they want to DO SOMETHING – and they are looking for the adults in the room to help them figure it out. Bottom line: We need to ensure students are properly-prepared to meet the needs of industry. And that means we ALSO need to break free from the workforce strategy of old. I agree with the US Chamber Foundation: It’s time for a focus on this new demand-driven approach, with constant collaboration between employers and the next generation of workers.
Employers must be at the helm of these partnerships. Because as you point out: They are the ones with leverage here, because they have the greatest currency in the marketplace: JOBS. They know better than anyone the needs of business, and because they’re used to operating in an ever-changing economic environment, they’re able to respond quickly and adjust their workforce standards to keep up the pace. Are we talking about an overnight fix here? Of course not. Closing this gap will take a lot of time and a lot of collaboration. But Arizona is rising to the challenge!
I just want to say this: I feel extremely lucky to be governor of a state like Arizona – a state I get to call home. There are plenty of states that many people don’t feel that way about. People wanting out. Wanting more opportunity and a better quality of life. That might be why last year, 100,000 NEW residents moved to our state. We must be doing something right. And despite our challenges, we have a lot to be proud of. I am.
I thank you for the opportunity to be here today ... and to all the business leaders and policy makers – for your innovative, eye-opening and forward-looking work on this important issue. It’s invaluable research for those of us on the front lines of economic development. Thanks again.