StriveTogether is partnering with Walmart.org to support the Retail Opportunity Network, which is a community of leaders focused on upskilling and learning, job success, and economic mobility for all people working in frontline roles across America. Orlando Cazarez, a senior program manager at the Center for the Future of Arizona shares some of his learning from the RON.
Arizona is home to the iconic Sonoran Desert, the most biologically diverse desert in the United States. It is filled with flora and fauna that can only flourish from the sustenance of the scarce but crucial groundwater.
The same can be said for the increasing diversity of the population of the state. Arizona has the fifth-largest city and the fastest-growing county in the nation with local companies and those from all corners of the country and from around the globe starting, growing and relocating within the state. The result is a growing talent and workforce landscape that is at the center of a transformation in our state.
But how do you sustain all of this change and ensure equitable access to opportunity for all? Like the precious resource that is our desert groundwater, we must nurture and guide the intricacies of the whole ecosystem so that all life can thrive. To do this as a state, you have to look at the root causes that create inequity within the systems, structures and policies that are in place.
This is our connection to “The Groundwater Approach,” a framework that can apply to any issue where inequity gaps exist and need to be closed. At the Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA) we do just that by identifying the issues that matter most to Arizonans and the actions needed to create the change Arizonans want.
In our recent Gallup Arizona Survey, CFA learned Arizonans want good-paying jobs and the education and training needed to participate in a vibrant economy. Yet the people who need it most – lower income Arizonans – say they want and lack those opportunities for education and training. These findings prompt us to take a deeper look into the underlying conditions that create these inequities and identify where action is needed.
Enter RetailWorks AZ. This CFA-led initiative brings education and professional development together in support of front-line, entry-level retail employees to make it easier and faster for them to move up the retail career ladder and to build a pipeline of skilled talent for the state.
But focusing solely on the retail sector is just the beginning. We’ve learned how to tap into the economic development opportunities, particularly in communities hardest hit by the pandemic, that come from leveraging the retail industry. In collaboration with partners and key stakeholders, we’ve connected the dots between the importance of education and a responsive workforce development system with strategies and tools to meet the needs of employers, workers, job seekers, and students to fill current and future employment needs.
And, ultimately, we understand the role these outcomes play when businesses make decisions to expand, relocate, or remain based on not only talent availability and training resources, but also affordable housing, access to healthcare and so much more. Most importantly, through this work, we are advancing equitable access to economic mobility opportunities by identifying skill gaps in groups who are underrepresented in leadership roles, as well as removing barriers that systematically result in disproportionate earning and advancement potential.
There’s a lot more work ahead to realize The Arizona We Want, but just as the desert groundwater supports life year after year, so can The Groundwater Approach in providing solutions to our most complex issues to create lasting change now and into the future.
About the Center for the Future of Arizona
The Center for the Future of Arizona is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that brings Arizonans together to create a stronger and brighter future for our state. We listen to Arizonans to learn what matters most to them, share trusted data about how Arizona is doing, bring critical issues to public attention, and work with communities and leaders to solve public problems. We work across the full spectrum of important issue areas and have deep and ongoing work in education, workforce and civic health. For more information, visit www.arizonafuture.org.
About the author
Orlando Cazarez is the Sr. Program Manager, Workforce Development at the Center for the Future of Arizona