Forbes magazine named the University of Arizona on its inaugural list of America’s Best-in-State Employers.
The UA ranked 11th out of 72 top Arizona employers, second among Arizona-based employers and first in the education subcategory, according to the magazine.
“We’re a higher education environment where our mission is education and research, and that’s a mission that is attractive to various individuals and not just those whose primary functions are targeted in those areas,” said Helena Rodrigues, interim chief human resources officer at the UA. “It’s a range of different things that, for any individual employee, makes this a great place to work.”
The university’s “very diverse” faculty and staff share a common attraction to the UA’s benefits and opportunities, Rodrigues said.
“I am thrilled that the University of Arizona has earned this recognition as one of the state’s best workplaces,” said UA President Robert C. Robbins in UA News. “With more than 16,000 people in our workforce, we take immense pride in providing an outstanding professional environment where employees can expand their own potential while helping our students pursue success.”
The UA embraces a collaborative environment across various departments and areas of research, Rodrigues said.
“Whether you’re in Phoenix; whether you’re here in Tucson; whether you’re in Sierra Vista, for instance, I think that there is a great spirit of collaboration and teamwork,” she said. “People are accessible, down to earth, and, at the end of the day, really committed to the university.”
Anyone who has worked in higher education understands the challenge of working without immense financial resources, and UA faculty and staff face challenges attaining goals, Rodrigues said.
“How we approach problem-solving, how we approach being innovative, is going to be different,” she said. “It’s required that we work well together in order to arrive at these good solutions with limited resources.”
But people stay for the “inclusive environment and culture” of the UA.
Because it is impossible to know every side of an operation within such a large institution, faculty and staff understand the need for collaboration and communication with colleagues, Rodrigues said.
“It just becomes a part of how we do things,” she said. “‘Who’s missing from the table? Whose perspective do we absolutely need to obtain in order to make sure this is successful?’ I think those are just really routine ways of thinking around here.”
Rodrigues said she loves working in a university environment because of the diverse workforce and the broad range of expertise among the faculty and staff.
“Speaking as someone working in human resources, as I might tackle a challenge that’s employee-related, I get to work with a range of individuals and watch this university do amazing things every day,” she said. “No two days are the same, and I get to work with really fantastic people and get to meet new people all the time.”
Employees leaving the UA for new opportunities frequently recall the relationships they developed at the university as the thing they will miss most about working there, Rodrigues said.
“I mean, at the end of the day, I think people make a place,” she said.
Rodrigues said she thinks diversity and inclusion are important in any workforce, and not just when seeking a new hire or filling a vacancy.
“It’s not just in those instances, although that presents an enormous opportunity to diversify your workforce,” she said. “I had talked earlier about the importance of being collaborative and the importance of relationships here, and, I think, for those to be true, we have to value different perspectives, different expertise, different backgrounds — be they educational, or professional, or both.”
The UA was designated an official Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education in 2018.
To solve the world’s biggest challenges and be the best innovators, the UA has to have the best talent, and that talent is going to be diverse, Rodrigues said.
“We have to be recruiting people who don’t have exactly the same background as us, who are going to challenge us, who are going to ask really good questions,” she said. “You just never know where the next great idea is going to come from.”
One area where the university has excelled is in leadership development both for those seeking leadership roles and those already in leadership who want to refine their skills, Rodrigues said.
“We have, for instance, an Academic Leadership Institute… and we’ve been very deliberate here that that’s not just faculty; that’s faculty and staff,” she said. “We have individuals who are in department head roles… being part of a cohort and learning different leadership skills, or working on different leadership skills together over the course of a year.”
The UA has developed similar programming for IT professionals, finance professionals and more, she said.
“That is our way to really message to the university environment, to all employees, that in order for all of us to be successful we have to have really good leaders in place,” Rodrigues said. “We’re committed to doing that internally — to providing unique programming opportunities and development opportunities for our employees and for our leaders.”
Other universities and colleges have modeled their programs after the UA, but there is always room for improvement, she said.
Aside from the students, the employees are the university’s greatest assets from a workplace perspective, Rodrigues said.
“When they’re engaged, they’re their most productive, and when they’re their most productive and engaged, students have a good experience as a result of that,” she said. “When we talk to employees about what keeps them engaged or what gets them engaged, it is having opportunities for growth.”
Even individuals who are not seeking a promotion or a leadership role still want opportunities for growth and development, she said.
The UA is present in all 15 counties in Arizona and has a “commitment to each county” in the state, Rodrigues said.
“I think that we strive, always, to be integrated with the community, because that makes us stronger as an institution,” she said. “We are always looking for more opportunities to be much more engaged in the community — from the smallest example, like having community members serve on a search committee, to much bigger partnerships and enterprises [such as] multi-million-dollar research with a community partner.”
Partnerships are critical for the UA to meet its future goals, the most important of which is to offer the “very best experience” for students, Rodrigues said. And today, that experience transcends both physical and online classrooms.
“It’s about the whole organization… feeling a part of that student experience,” she said.