by Craig H. McFarland, Mayor, City of Casa Grande

Even before I took office, I have been supporting, encouraging and talking (to anyone who will listen) about education and workforce development. If we expect our communities to grow and prosper, we need to be prepared for the jobs of the future. Achieve Pinal is a regional grassroots effort dedicated to working with education, government, business and other interested community partners. The goal is to develop a competitive future workforce by improving educational attainment in Pinal County (

Many jobs are expected in Pinal County over the next decade (Casa Grande in particular). By 2030 nearly 70 percent of all jobs will require a post-high school degree or certificate. The percentage of Arizona residents age 25 to 64 who have completed a two- or four-year degree or post-high school professional certificate in Arizona overall is 43 percent and in Pinal County is 29 percent. Our goal by 2030 is 60 percent, so this means we have some work to do!

Jobs are changing quickly. We are living through an era of unprecedented change in the workplace. With the accelerating pace of social and technological change, the World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of children born today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet.

What can ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade students do to prepare for college and/or prepare for career directly after high school?

Here is a checklist:

  • Complete an Education Career Action Plan (ECAP) in ninth grade.
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  • ECAP will help you to find a career you will enjoy.
  • It has an inventory of jobs, job pay, job training requirements, it will ask you questions about what you like to do and what you are good at.
  • Make sure you take the necessary high school courses that support your career choice for entry into college and/or courses that will help you get that post-high school professional certificate.
  • Pursue involvement in extracurricular activities that interest you.
  • Complete the PSAT in the 10th or 11th grade.
  • Volunteer in your community and seek out summer internships in your career area/area of interest.
  • In 11th and 12th grade, enroll in courses that allow you to earn college credit or skilled trades certificates while attending high school.
  • Begin to look for scholarship opportunities. Use the FAFSA4caster tool to find out if or how much federal student aid you qualify for
  • In 11th grade, register to take the ACT or SAT in the spring. Talk to school counselors to waive the test registration fee if you cannot afford it.
  • Revisit your ECAP with your counselor.
  • Visit at least one campus of a college you want to attend.
  • Make sure your applications are submitted to colleges of interest by Thanksgiving of your senior year.
  • Complete the free application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by mid-February of your senior year

For Pinal to Achieve, for Casa Grande to Achieve, we must be prepared. As parents and community members, we can assist this effort by encouraging our young adults to follow this checklist and by giving to charitable organizations that advance education. If we own businesses or work for large companies, consider hosting an internship program. Partner with our local community college (CAC) to help you meet your workforce needs. And finally, we all need to be the positive voice for education and workforce development. Share success stories about our local school district(s) with neighbors, friends, employees and customers.

We can all make a difference!

Craig H. McFarland, Mayor, City of Casa Grande