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CAC Workforce Development Partnership Seeks to Close Skills Gap

A new workforce development partnership between Central Arizona College and Tempe-based general contractor Sundt Construction, Inc., was celebrated on July 13 when CAC dedicated the new Sundt Training Wall built by Sundt for the college’s welding department at the CAC Signal Butte campus in Coolidge, AZ.

As pointed out by James Busch, CAC heavy equipment operations professor, “Our heavy equipment operators and diesel mechanics come here for two years, then go off and make $50,000 a year, just starting! So, it’s a great opportunity for those kids to get in, learn a skill and it pays them for the rest of their lives.”

Classes at AJHS/EVIT Give Students a Head Start

Also addressing this challenge, Apache Junction High School added a Career and Technical Education (CTE) credit to the school’s graduation requirements in 2008 as a way to introduce students to career options. Every sophomore must take a CTE class, choosing from construction technology, welding, culinary, multimedia, or medical assistant. All classes are taught on the AJHS campus by instructors from the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT). Students who discover an interest in trade skills can continue their studies during their junior and senior years on campus (construction, welding, or culinary), or they can select from a myriad of programs taught on the EVIT main or east campuses, with transportation provided by AJHS.

Craig Pearson, principal of EVIT’s extended campus programs at Apache Junction and Fountain Hills high schools, said EVIT’s construction and welding programs will prepare students well to move on to CAC if they choose to do so. Construction and welding students can earn first-year certifications through the National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) and the American Welding Society (AWS) at Apache Junction High School. They may then move on to the Construction and Welding programs at EVIT’s Main Campus in Mesa for more advanced training and the opportunity to earn the next level of NCCER and AWS certifications. When they complete their EVIT training, students are prepared to go into the workforce, military or college. EVIT is not a degree-granting institution, however, so students who want a post-secondary degree go on to schools like CAC, Pearson said.

In conjunction with Sundt, CAC has designed courses for five pre-employment one-year certificates and one three-year academic apprenticeship. Students may earn an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Degree for: Heavy Equipment Operator, Structural Welding and Pipefitters-Pipe Welding. Additionally, certificate programs are available in Industrial Construction and Concrete Construction. The course offerings meet NCCER standards, AWS requirements and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 30-hour requirements. Students who complete the Associate of Applied Science can go on to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Industrial Technology Management at Northern Arizona University or a related degree at universities throughout the state.

“This is the partnership that we’re dreaming about,” said Darry Welker, craft training instructor with Sundt. “Our vision is that someday, we’re going to be hiring 300 kids per year from this school. This is going to be a new pipeline that we’re creating to bring [young men and women] into the construction industry.”

CAC Welding Professor Ken Smith summed up the value of the partnership, “Education is the foundation of community growth. Nothing happens without education. Nothing happens without our craft workers. If we can’t build the structures and facilities, our economy will not grow. We need that.”

For more information regarding CAC course offerings related to this partnership, please contact CAC Career Navigator Sandra Zires at 520-494-5308 or

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