Real Skills for Real Jobs

Becky JacksonHere at ICAN, we have been focusing on youth for over 25 years. We provide a safe, free place for youth to come afterschool and provide them with real life skills and decision making tools. We work passionately to ensure that they all graduate from high school. But what happens after that? Off they go into “real life” and we hope for the best. This will not be the case anymore. ICAN is entering into a partnership with the Chandler Compadres to create the “ICAN Start Working” program.

Does this mean more college scholarships? Not necessarily. College is a wonderful option for many youth and we are so happy for those that choose to go that route. But for even more youth that we work with, college is not a viable option. They would be on their own financially; facing mounting student loan debt just to make it through. So often we see that middle-skill jobs are quickly overlooked as a viable option for many.

According to a recent series by USA Today, an estimated 2.5 million new, middle-skill jobs are expected to be added to the workforce by 2017 – welding-schools4accounting for nearly 40% of all job growth. These jobs require some training, but far less schooling than a bachelor’s degree. These middle-skill jobs include radiation therapists, elevator installers and repairers, and dental hygienists, all with a median wage of more than $70,000 per year.

Arizona has one of the top 10 metro areas expected to create the most middle-skill jobs by 2017.  Between 2010 and 2020, 52% of the job openings in Arizona will be middle-skill. According to the National Skills Coalition, middle-skill jobs account for 53% of Arizona’s labor market, but only 47% of the state’s workers are trained for these jobs. The gap is widening as more and more baby boomers retire – they make up about 20% of this workforce. Our society’s push to get all young people into four-year colleges (also known as the “one road to heaven” approach) contributes to a nationwide shortage of skilled workers.

The abundance of these jobs is great – but nearly 80% of the new blue-collar jobs require some training, typically less than a year. That is where ICAN’s new program comes along. Our program will identify students for the program (starting as early as junior high school) and work with them on what it is they want to do – whether it be learning a trade or attending community college or university. We will then sponsor that student to be trained through partners such as TechShop Chandler, or attend a Maricopa Community College. The students will then be placed in internships and apprenticeships that will hopefully lead to full-time work. If ICAN invests $800 for a student to be trained as an apprentice welder, they have the opportunity to make $48,000 when they work full-time – that’s a pretty good return on investment.

solarSo what can you do to help? Maybe you or someone you know has a business that employs skilled workers. We hope that you would consider working with ICAN to provide opportunities for interns or apprentices at your place of business. Maybe you know a high school student or recent graduate who would be a great fit in this program. We are kicking things off this upcoming school year and look to the community for support and encouragement with this exciting program that will surely impact us all.

If you would like to participate in some way with ICAN Start Working, please contact Melissa Jimro, Chief Programs Officer at (480) 874-7591 or for more information.

I am very encouraged by the response from our community, donors and academia to make ICAN Start Working a fundamental program to assist our youth in being responsible members of our community, no matter what path they decide to take.

For more information, visit, read the full article from USA Today, or visit the National Skills Coalition.


Becky Jackson
President & CEO
ICAN: Positive Programs for Youth

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