An initiative years in the making is helping connect Arizona jobseekers with viable career paths and suitable employers.
Pipeline AZ is a free, open online platform that allows those searching for new employment to see job availability, requirements and salaries in the state’s top industries — and what those industries are.
“There was a need to really understand how to diversify our economy and try and think about creating a more innovative space for economic growth and development,” said Katherine Pappas, director of workforce strategy at Pipeline AZ. “This plan really laid out a way that we can accomplish that diversification; so just thinking about changing the overall environment of innovation. Talent is one of the biggest drivers of that, and understanding not only where talent is but how talent can continue to make decisions about their careers and have those opportunities right here, all over the state of Arizona.”
“Many years” of planning and development went into creating Pipeline AZ, but Pappas said the project really began to take shape when the Maricopa County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) began funding workforce development efforts in 2017 in an effort to “reinvest and really try to make an impact in those high-demand roles that are unable to be filled.”
Those jobs exist all over the state, Pappas said, hence the need for a system to connect jobseekers with appropriate and effective employment options. The project began in Maricopa County with plans to move and scale statewide.
One challenge in workforce development is the fact that different workforce entities do not communicate with each other, Pappas said.
“There are so many amazing organizations and work that’s being done to help people understand pathways to kind of elevate our footprint, but none of these are connected,” she said.
The Pipeline AZ team did its best with what it had, Pappas said, but a windfall came when the organization discovered an online platform called Pipeline, developed by North Carolina-based technology firm Futures Inc., and decided to partner up.
“We decided that this would be the best way for us to start to connect some of those elements and really have a common infrastructure in which workforce, for the first time, would be able to convene in one place and connect through a common language,” Pappas said. “That’s really the impetus of why Pipeline came to be.”
The Pipeline AZ team liked Futures as a vendor because of its initial work in the veteran space and its understanding of how to “lattice” skills with occupations, she said.
It can be difficult for jobseekers to make connections with the right employers, in part because the same role can be called by multiple names, and sometimes job descriptions do not fully explain the responsibilities required, Pappas said. It is also difficult to find job postings when different companies use different job board websites, creating an even more fragmented market.
“Pipeline enables this very clean connection point because it talks back and forth between employers and jobseekers based on skills and latticing those skills,” Pappas said. “We’ve been working with many different groups across the community; two- and four-year schools; we’ve been working with community-based organizations, social organizations, economic development… This has been a huge community effort to develop and build the platform to be able to then launch across our state.”
Pipeline AZ officially launched in January and is now working on phase two — adoption.
“What we initially proposed to IDA is focusing the skill-latticing and all the programmatic connection points right back to industry,” Pappas said. “That’s kind of the phase that we’re in now.”
In order to ensure information about businesses and other hiring entities is accurate on the Pipeline AZ website, the team did a “robust study and methodology” in order to determine the top-100 in-demand jobs in Arizona. Then, they began making connections between academic programs, occupations and jobseekers.
Pappas said Pipeline AZ exists not to create another supplemental career-pathway platform but to “work within the community groups to help understand what that information is that industry would like to relay back to jobseekers.”
Pipeline AZ is free of charge and open to anyone seeking employment in Arizona, even if they do not live in the state currently. Jobseekers can build a professional profile and connect with potential employers, who can join the system, post jobs and identify what specific skills and competencies are needed from prospective applicants.
The platform’s wide availability could have a strong impact for people seeking employment in rural areas, where unemployment presents a challenge and available jobs are not always apparent. Employers can make clear any special offers, such as specialized internships, scholarships or educational assistance.
“We’re starting to just convene that information,” Pappas said. “Ultimately, the platform is designed to capture what an employer might call a standard occupation.”
For example, she said, every organization with an IT department probably has some kind of web developer — but each company could call it something different.
“We’re collecting all those alias titles and kind of looking at how we can best make that latticing happen; that’s sort of an automated thing that happens [through] use,” Pappas said.
Pipeline AZ has also worked with universities and community colleges in the state to determine which programs lead to which jobs, as well as alternative routes such as CompTIA, Woz U and Galvanize, which offer training programs for various tech-related jobs.
“They are a huge partner to us — all the schools,” Pappas said. “And because the IDA initially funded this, this kind of becomes the epicenter of its origin. But it is meant to reverberate out, so we’re continuing to grow and add on additional components.”
Ultimately, Pipeline AZ is the end-to-end solution to workforce development in Arizona, she said.
“This tool can help us — as an infrastructure — to better identify talent that we have, where gaps exist, in order to then go back to educators and programmatically, in real time, identify what’s needed, in order for us as a region, as a state, to understand that information; for us to know how to make better policy decisions based on the talent that exists and the industries that are emerging,” Pappas said.
She said she doesn’t think there was another platform in the nation with Pipeline AZ’s unique capabilities.
The platform is growing rapidly and continues to help people make better decisions about their career paths, she said. At the same time, employers can make more informed decisions about what talent they need and what skills are truly required for someone to fill a particular role.
“Now is a really exciting time,” Pappas said. “Jobseekers will understand what careers and pathways exist in our state, so they… choose to stay here and grow here.”