March 22, 2021

The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded Arizona State University an $8 million grant to lead an innovative workforce development partnership to help train workers for high-paying, high-demand jobs in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and information technology (IT).

The One Workforce grant will help address a critical skills shortage in the U.S. by establishing the Arizona Workforce Training Accelerator Partnership for Next Generation Jobs (AZNext). The program, which will be led by ASU and its many partners, is designed to train at least 2,000 participants, with a goal of achieving industry-recognized credentials and permanent job placement over the next four years.

The grant was a collaboration of ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and several external partners, including Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Technology Council, Arizona@Work, Infosys and Pipeline AZ. The partnership leverages the state’s educational and employment resources to create the workforce of the future.

For years, Arizona has been prioritizing jobs in advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity and IT. The state ranks second in the U.S. when it comes to creating jobs in those emerging sectors, and has filled more than 350,000 related positions since 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Through this new partnership, ASU will help close the skills gap faster and help employers reach new, diverse talent.

“The grant program enables ASU to help the unemployed/underemployed find meaningful careers in fast-paced industries,” said Raghu Santanam, chair of the Department of Information Systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business and principle investigator of the grant. “It will also create career opportunities for underrepresented populations in technology-focused industries.”

AZNext is designed to use a combination of multidisciplinary and industry-relevant training, with multiple insertion points for degree-seeking or nondegree-seeking learners. ASU will leverage programming from multiple colleges and enterprise units, while industry employers will leverage paid internships, train-to-hire programs, boot camps and simulated work experiences. AZNext will also build on another grant-funded program through ASU’s business school: Digital Workforce Apprenticeship Partnership, which was established through ASU’s first department of labor grant to help close the skills gap in America’s workforce.

The Polytechnic campus in Mesa, which is home to some of the engineering school’s top programs, will be the hub for advanced manufacturing education where project-based curriculum and hands-on learning are already taking shape with top industry employers like Honeywell Aerospace, Pilgrim Aerospace, PADT, Siemens, Raytheon Missiles & Defense and TPI Composites.

“The Polytechnic campus is poised to lead the effort in advanced manufacturing including additive manufacturing, robotics and automation and new battery technologies,” said Tom Sugar, co-principal investigator of the grant. “As an associate dean for Barrett, The Honors College (at the Polytechnic campus]), we are always finding ways to enhance the education of our engineering scholars.”

"Today’s and tomorrow’s technicians and engineers need the background and software skills necessary to digitalize product design while increasing manufacturability and quality through field support and workforce development,” said Gerald Deren, vice president of Siemens Digital Industries Software — an AZNext partner. "We feel that the best approach towards building this talent pool resides in the partnerships we develop with universities like Arizona State. Siemens looks forward to working with ASU in preparing students and continuing education professionals for rewarding careers across many industries.”

On ASU’s West campus in Glendale, programs from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences will help educate and train AZNext participants in the fields of biological data science and cybersecurity. This effort is being led by Karan Watanabe, an associate professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences who has been nurturing science, technology, engineering and mathematics workforce development initiatives for many years.

“I’ve worked to expand inclusion and access to STEM fields to persons of color for years,” Watanabe said. “AZNext offers tangible opportunities for those who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM fields to advance in high-demand career fields including biological data science and cybersecurity.”

One of the many goals of AZNext is to build a workforce development model that not only works in Arizona but can be applied in other states — eventually upskilling all of America’s workforce. ASU’s partnerships with agencies like Arizona Commerce Authority, which leads economic development and workforce programs across the state, will be critical in this effort.

“Talent is often the key driver in business location decisions,” said Sandra Watson, president and CEO of Arizona Commerce Authority. “Through AZNext, Arizona is further enhancing our workforce and helping ensure a ready supply of talent to fill the highly technical and advanced jobs of tomorrow. We look forward to working with ASU and other partners on this important initiative to advance Arizona’s competitive position in the global economy and create new opportunities for Arizonans.”

AZNext will help ASU build on partnerships that already exist — like the innovative train-to-hire program model with Fortune 500 company Cognizant Technologies — which began in 2019, and allows participants to complete a digital business analyst certificate program through ASU’s business school in 10 weeks, while potentially landing an opportunity to interview with Cognizant after completion.

“As a leading technology firm, Cognizant recognizes the importance of maintaining a highly skilled, deeply knowledgeable workforce,” said Eric Westphal, assistant vice president of workforce strategy and operations at Cognizant. “This proposal with ASU builds on our established Digital Business Analyst Certificate Program and will position us to develop new curriculum and programs designed to help prepare individuals for in-demand digital economy careers.”

ASU’s experience building custom educations for adult learners — like the university’s Starbucks College Achievement Plan and Uber partnerships — have benefited more than 48,000 learners since 2018 and will help strengthen AZNext’s goals and the work already underway by ASU and employers looking to create sustainable, long-term infrastructure for workforce training in emerging technologies in Arizona and beyond.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Jimena Garrison

Copywriter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications