Sybil Francis

Hope Street Group Network Member Interview with Sybil Francis, Executive Director, Center for the Future of Arizona

sybil-croppedCan you provide some background on the work you all are leading in Arizona? What led the Center for the Future of Arizona to undertake its new Retail Sector Initiative focused on providing retail sector employees with the skills necessary to succeed and advance in retail or through retail and into adjacent sectors?

The Center for the Future of Arizona was established in 2002 as a non-partisan “do-tank” to explore the big-picture questions that confront Arizona and to provide impartial analyses and collaborative leadership to identify long-term solutions to the most challenging issues of our time.

We are committed to advancing economic prosperity and quality of life for all Arizonans by fostering innovative approaches in training and education. We focus on systemic change that will close the achievement gap, increase educational attainment, and prepare a highly-skilled workforce.

 

Our Approach:

  • Be research-based and outcomes-driven
  • Innovate and redesign systems, proving out new models for education and workforce development
  • Impact policy and practice
  • Build strong connections within communities and mobilize citizens to support their local schools while advocating for education more broadly
  • Leverage national partnerships and collaborate with Arizona partners at every level – policymakers, schools, state agencies, the philanthropic and nonprofit community, higher education, and business and industry

We have a strong track record for advancing innovative statewide education and workforce initiatives including:

  • Move On When Ready – a fundamental redesign of teaching and learning that ultimately leads to all students performing at a college- and career-readiness level by the time they graduate from high school. National partners are the National Center on Education and the Economy and Cambridge International Examinations.
  • Pathways to Prosperity – a partnership with industry, postsecondary institutions, and high schools to develop new college and career pathways tailored to student interests and aligned with our state’s workforce and economic development needs. National partners are Jobs for the Future and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
  • Beat the Odds School Leadership Academy – a local delivery of nationally researched and proven executive development training and mentoring for school leaders. The academy draws on Arizona research on high-achieving, low-income, majority Latino schools, CFA’s extensive experience in school leadership through the BTO principal mentoring program, and the work of the National Institute for School Leadership (NISL) Executive Development Program.
  • Education Innovation Incubationan initiative bringing new education models to Arizona, such as New Classrooms Innovation Partner’s “Teach to One: Math”, a program that seeks to reimagine the classroom by leveraging technology to personalize learning in middle school math.

With this long history of leading educational initiatives, we saw the opportunity to link K-14+ learning to workforce development in order to help Arizona address the full continuum of life-long learning. This focus on workforce development was a natural extension of our work in education and is consistent with CFA’s commitment to advance economic opportunity and social mobility for individuals through innovative approaches to training and education.

Currently, workforce development organizations at all levels in Arizona are reinventing themselves with the new WIOA mandates. This made it a perfect time to step in and bring our core competencies of convening, connecting, collaborating, conducting research, and strong community partnerships to the table in order to design practical, scalable solutions. We are very excited about working in the retail sector as it’s one of Arizona’s largest sector employers, with 1 in 4 jobs in Arizona in the retail industry.

As recipients of the first “place-based” grant from the Walmart Foundation, we will design and develop a retail sector strategy in Maricopa County. The project will demonstrate how retail sector employees can gain greater career mobility and advancement within and beyond retail jobs. The Retail Sector Initiative is the first of its kind for the Phoenix area and has great potential to be a national model for how a region can leverage the retail industry to tap into economic development opportunities. The project officially launches in winter 2017.

We believe the impact of this initiative is a win-win for all involved, including retail employees and employers, adjacent sectors, the broader community in Maricopa County, which is the fourth largest county in the U.S., and the state of Arizona as a whole.

Hope Street Group strongly believes in a cross-sector and collaborative approach to tackle the toughest challenges across the learning to work continuum. How does the Center approach leveraging multiple community stakeholders across the state to improve the economic opportunities for Arizonans?

 With our Retail Sector Initiative work, we are already reaching out to build new relationships with retail employers in Maricopa County and are strengthening or extending our current relationships with workforce development entities at the county and city level, with Chambers of Commerce in Maricopa County, with non-governmental organizations like United Way and Goodwill, and with professional associations such as the Arizona Retailers Association. We believe in leveraging the resources developed and provided by other organizations, such as Innovate+Educate, the NRF, and League for Innovation in the Community College, to contribute to retail workforce development for the incumbent worker. And, we know we have much we can learn from other sectors’ work around incumbent workforce development – i.e. Advanced Manufacturing and Business Services, IT, and Healthcare.

Because we are a non-partisan, non-profit organization, we are able to bring stakeholders from across a single community or even the entire state to the table with the shared goal of advancing economic opportunity and social mobility for the citizens of Arizona. Our strength is convening, connecting, and building collaborative stakeholder communities to tackle the state’s toughest challenges – including the learning-to-work continuum. Our approach is in alignment with the Hope Street Group, and it is our brand.

While cross-sector collaboration is critical to advancing our Retail Sector Initiative, we are also strong proponents of analyzing quantitative data and conducting qualitative analysis to gain insight into what the biggest opportunities are around retail incumbent workforce development. We have a sector landscape analysis underway in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity/Arizona Commerce Authority (OEO/ACA) that will provide us with information to determine focus areas and potential impacts.

You all recently announced the inaugural class of New Arizona Fellows. Can you speak a bit about the fellowship, your partnership with the new American Fellows program and what impacts you hope to have on the community with this new initiative?

The New America Fellows Program brings together thinkers – journalists, producers, practioners, and scholars – whose work enhances the public conversation surrounding the most pressing issues of the day. In an age where journalism is dominated by the 24-7 news cycle and where print media readership is declining, the fellowships provide opportunities for talented individuals who need support to pursue more ambitious endeavors like books, films, photo essays, long-form storytelling and policy projects.

In partnership with the New America Fellows program, CFA is supporting two individuals that will seek to enrich our community through research, observation and analysis. The New American fellows are selected on a highly competitive basis and serve – some full-time, some on an adjunct basis – for one or two years. During that time, they will have an intellectual home at CFA where they have the time, space and resources to pursue their projects.

Partnering with The New America Fellows Program supports the Center for the Future of Arizona’s mission because, through their work, our fellows will provide analysis and insight into the issues that are important to Arizonans and that also resonate nationally.

The Retail Community of Practice features a diverse number of stakeholders all working in different ways to positively impact the workforce of the retail and retail-adjacent sectors. What are some of the benefits you have already seen and are looking to further develop as a member of this community? 

We are very excited to be a member of the Hope Street Group Retail Community of Practice. While we are new to the group and in the early stages of planning our initiative, we already are benefiting from the diversity of ideas, resources, and best practices that members share in the monthly calls and in-person meetings. Since employer engagement and measuring the ROI of increasing upward mobility for the incumbent Retail worker is work that’s still ahead of us, we are reaching out to members to learn from them. This will help accelerate our initiative. When we are further into our initiative, we look forward to increasing our contribution as a CoP member by sharing our learnings.

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