The Workforce of Kingman: Experts say there is plenty of education, but a lack of technical skills

Marlene Amador and Tony Rearly sand motorcycle parts in preparation for painting in Mohave Community College’s auto collision repair class.

Courtesy of MCC

Marlene Amador and Tony Rearly sand motorcycle parts in preparation for painting in Mohave Community College’s auto collision repair class.

There’s a general perception that Kingman lacks an educated and skilled workforce, but Richie Mitten puts the onus on business owners to attract, pay and appreciate their workers.

Skilled workers are out there, said Mitten, director of the automotive repair program at Mohave Community College and a former body shop owner in Lake Havasu City for 12 years.

Getting them to work for you is the biggest challenge.

“There are plenty of skilled people around,” Mitten said. “You’ve just got to find them and make your shop admirable to them.”

Those who are skilled in a trade, reliable and hard workers know what they’re worth, and they’re not going to take any job offer, especially one with low pay and no benefits, Mitten explained.

“I have one guy calling me every day. If they have a heartbeat, send them my way. The bad thing is most employers in Kingman and Bullhead City and Lake Havasu want that guy, but they’re still stuck in the ma-and-pa organization,” he said.

“They’re not really trying to bring anything new on their end. Better equipment, better work opportunities and better pay.”

Carol Gunnerson, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) for Kingman Unified School District, said high school students are taught “soft” skills or technical skills for employment in a number of fields, including emergency medical technician, certified nursing assistants, certified welders and computer information systems.

The school district is part of the Western Arizona Vocation Education (WAVE) and Joint Technical Education (JTED) programs. Those classes are designed for students entering the workforce.

“All of our shops have industry level equipment. We use the most recent software, and try to expose students to as many careers as possible by busing students to many different career fairs,” Gunnerson said.

Employment barriers

Kingman and Mohave Manufacturing Association hosts students for a day at Kingman Airport and Industrial Park to learn about jobs available in the manufacturing industry.

American Woodmark has a business partnership with the high school cabinetry program and hires students who complete the program.

John Hansen, chairman of KAMMA, said local business leaders have communicated to him that the workforce in Kingman has been unable to satisfactorily respond to several openings.

In particular, the workforce is lacking in industrial, automation, system maintenance and programming. There’s a lack of technically qualified applicants for those jobs, or they run into “insurmountable barriers” such as drug-free requirements, work schedules, transportation and readiness to join the workforce, Hansen said.

“Numerous local companies have taken responsibility to train and pay for some of the skills required for their operations,” Hansen said. “In the case of two different industrial park apprenticeship programs, there have consistently been training program non-completion rates greater than 50 percent.”

With healthcare the fastest-growing employment sector in Arizona, the nursing program at Mohave Community College has provided training for hundreds of jobs at KRMC and medical offices in the area.

KRMC is highly engaged in job-training efforts, having added more than 800 jobs over the last 10 years, Chief Executive Brian Turney said.

The hospital gives student tours of medical facilities and supports job training with scholarships, job shadowing and organizations such as the Health Occupation Student Association at the high schools.

“There is a lot of education in this community, and a lot of people who are more than willing to help anyone who wants to work or retrain to work,” Gunnerson said. “I have worked in Kingman for 22 years, and I have never asked any business for any kind of help that they did not bend over backwards to support students and their education.”

About 86 percent of KUSD students in career and technical education pass their technical assessments on jobs skills, Gunnerson noted.

Some industries test students and give out certifications and licenses to help with career success. Other programs lead to secondary education with two- and four-year degrees.

Career guidance

The importance of workforce training has never been greater as Mohave County competes for new business and industry.

Wendy Hayes, counselor at Lee Williams High School, talks to students about their future plans and does her best to guide them in the right direction.

The school offers CTE classes such as automotive, fire science, business, computer information systems, medical and technical theatre production.

Students also have the opportunity to take career-oriented classes at Mohave Community College through WAVE and JTED certified programs.

“I have had many students go through the CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) certification process, welding program, automotive and computer information systems,” Hayes said.

The counselor directs students to Mohave County’s One Stop career center when they need to find a job. The center keeps her posted on upcoming training and events that may be of interest to students.

By The Numbers

800 KRMC-added jobs over the last 10 years

86% of KUSD students in career and technical education who passed technical assessments

2 years or less to graduate MCC’s auto collision program