The Arizona House has begun debating HB2657, a high-tech workforce development bill which would funnel money through the Arizona Commerce Authority to community colleges to train workers in “high-demand” fields. The CEO of the Commerce Authority would manage the fund created by this bill, and they would determine what to fund.
As it is currently written the bill would “support career and technical education programs and courses that prepare a capable workforce for manufacturing in information technology and related industries.”
Why are we focusing only on manufacturing, financial services and technology? Previously, we saw this with CTED (formerly JTED) classes. In the last session, proposed legislation would have funneled 9th grade students into select industries like machine tooling, aerospace, and automotive services, while they left healthcare, coding and other careers by the wayside.
To meet the needs of our state, workforce development could and should go beyond tech. Why is healthcare not included in HB2657? We have a need for expanded access to care particularly in rural Arizona, and we do not have enough medical and health professionals to fill the gaps. We could train rural Arizonans to be community health workers, certified nursing assistants and home health aides. When I taught health education at the University of Arizona, I had many students from rural Arizona, particularly tribal lands, who were studying in Tucson and planned to take their new skills back to rural Arizona to help their people. How can we foster this?
Arizona has five rural counties — Cochise, Gila, Graham, Santa Cruz and LaPaz– that are considered maternal and child health deserts because of lack of medical personnel and health services in those areas. The face of premature birth in Arizona is young, brown and rural. Every preemie birth that is funded by AHCCCS costs the state between $500,000 – $1 million.
We could improve access to care, foster workforce development, save money and tackle urban/rural health disparities if we put as much effort into the healthcare workforce as we do into tech.
[In the photo, I am posing with the doctor of the day from Banner Univerity Medical Center.]