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Updated Jan 30, 2014 - 8:57 am

Arizona education getting students ready for high-tech jobs

Derrick Lawter working on Pro Tools in a state of the art studio at the East Valley Institute of Technology. (Photo by Patrick Jervis of EVIT)

PHOENIX -- New industries are looking toward Arizona as a future technology hub of the country and they want a workforce that is prepared to meet their demands.

Educational programs across the state are working to convince modern industries that we are ready. That means more jobs for Arizonans, and maybe a better quality of life for the Valley's young people.

"If I didn't go to EVIT and I would have been going into college, I think I would have had to have a little bit of a wake up call, a reality check my first couple months of college," said Derrick Lawter, a senior at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee.

Derrick spends the other half of his school days at the East Valley Institute of Technology, also known as EVIT. He said the school has exposed him to technology in ways that puts him ahead of his peers.

"When we do go out into the industry we're ready with that technology," he said. "We're ready to learn the new technology that comes out, we might even be ready to be the one that makes the new technology."

That's important to the Apple, Gigya and Yelp!-type companies that are now choosing Arizona as a home for their businesses. Dr. Sally Downey, Superintendent of EVIT, said her school is an economic engine, for the East Valley.

"I don't care what the industry is, when they come to a new location the first thing they ask for is the workforce," Downey said.

How Arizona is going to train and supply that work force is the key.

"This is where they get their start. This is where the fire is lit, and this is where they find what they really want to do," she said. "And so if we can start them out like that, the sky's the limit."

Educational training like this used to be called "shop," or "vocational training" then "trade schools." That's changed.

"That's an old term. We like to think of ourselves as the new CTE school: Career and Technical (Education)," Downey said.

That simple change in terminology is just one piece designed to prepare Arizona to become a technology hub. Dr. Lattie Coor, CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona, is also not a fan of the term "trade school."

"I believe we are all educating people for life and for career," said Coor. "It is career and technical education, and some of the more attractive and valuable jobs, right now today, can be earned by a student preparing him or herself to be effective in that."

Both Downey and Coor spoke about a two-pronged approach for students to have a marketable skill and a business certificate.

"The thing I think mostly, (that) young people need to have is a license to a job, and a license to advance education later," said Coor. "In order to sell our potential workforce to modern industry, we need to be absolutely clear about how well we're doing, how many students we're producing, and what quality of work they're doing."

State universities, community college work skills programs and nationally-recognized high schools are some of the other bright spots in Arizona education, according to Coor.

"We are performing, but we need, given the reality of the world, to perform at an ever higher standard," he said. "And we're on our way, but we have some work to do to get there."

As for Derrick, he's now committed to Boise State. With radio and audio technology skills he can use to get a job while at the university, he actually wants to broaden his education even further.

"I'm interested in going into business or politics because I am really interested in both of those fields," he said. "I feel like I can really get as far as I take myself."

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