• Career Exploration, Development, and Workforce Readiness

  • "You cannot teach the mind whose heart you have not touched."  

    ~  Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho


    "Middle school students need to start connecting to their own personal vision for what career or work they like and want to do and connect that vision with their education. The ABEC Career Exploration Project is a successful and meaningful model for business-education partnerships that is positively impacting the lives of students."  ~  Gina Schmitz, former Principal, Landmark School, Glendale Elementary School District. 




    September Issue

    The Southwest Technical District of Yuma (STEDY), University of Arizona - Yuma and Yuma - Arizona Business and Education Coalition (ABEC) hosted a career exploration summer camp for students from five school districts in Yuma County. The students spent a week rotating through career pathways such as Agriculture, Medical Assistance, Engineering/Artificial Intelligence, Animation and more. Plus, each rotation included hands-on, real-world experiences like flying drones, suturing bananas and programming robots.

    This year, AZ OnTrack funding helped Yuma ABEC expand their current middle school career exploration program to even more students. With strong partnerships, curriculum and mentorships, the program is designed to help younger students learn about possible careers and inspire successful entry into the workforce. Congratulations to everyone for an amazing and impactful Summer!



    Yuma, Arizona

    "STEDY offers Career Exploration summer fun to middle schoolers"

    Click here for the article. 


    HANDS ON LEARNING @ Yuma School District One's Fourth Avenue Jr. High


    Culinary Arts: Making Sushi!

    Construction: Building a table! 

    Click here for the <2 minute news story video. 


    Career Pathways and Middle School Engagement

    The Goal:  The development of a statewide voluntary career education model integrating ALL partners and existing independent successful components into an overall strategic plan to ensure all students have access to quality career awareness, exploration, preparation, and placement programs.  

    The Solution:

    Key partners that have a piece of the puzzle need to be integrated to form a cohesive, conceptual plan that can be understood and communicated to all Arizona citizens.


     ABEC is uniquely qualified to lead this work because it is a non-partisan, statewide organization with a focus on K-20 education fostered by business and community leaders and partners.  This work is also being guided by the report and recommendations of the Pipeline Az Education Leadership Group’s report (which ABEC played a leading role), Dear Arizona:  A Call from EducatorsReimagining Career Development for All Arizona Students.


    Supported by community, state, and federal grants,  ABEC has been able to accomplish the following goals which includes on-going facilitated discussions and collaborations with education, community and business partners currently engaged in the career development process, in order to:

    • Support the continued development of an integrated technology one-stop portal for students, families, and employers that optimizes access to currently available resources.
    • Develop strategies that lead to the implementation of a statewide education model and solutions for ALL Arizona students that provides equal opportunity for career development and training within three years.
    • Develop strategies to ensure available resources and human capital to deliver quality career development to students.
    • Facilitate a process to develop or expand a state level coordinating body to focus the state’s effort in making Arizona a premier producer of talent for the workforce pipeline.



    The ABEC Career Exploration & Development (ACED) Project continues to flourish.   ABEC, utilizing grant funds, and in collaboration with other state partners, is helping to build a cohesive middle school program that can be utilized by any school in Arizona.  Due to ABEC’s resolute determination, the impact has truly been dramatic and ensures ABEC partner schools have free access to the career exploration toolbox developed and implemented by ABEC and its’ business and community partners.

    Major accomplishments over the past year include:

    • In August of 2021, after months of planning and collaboration with ABEC and other education and community partners, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) launched MyFutureAZ, a new career exploration and planning platform, for students across the state. Originally developed just for high school students, with the support, collaboration and funding from ABEC and the Center for the Future of Arizona, the reach of this new tool was extended to middle schoolers as well.  “Who am I, what do I want, where am I going, and how do I get there” are all critical questions for middle school students as they begin to develop their career identities, understand the link between rigorous coursework and future careers, and transition into high school and beyond.  ABEC’s persistence in ensuring the MyFutureAz middle school platform plays a critical role for students in discovering the answers to these important questions so that they can effectively plan for their futures.   
    • ABEC engaged curriculum experts from two Career & Technology Education Districts, WEST-MEC and STEDY, to develop robust curriculum in the areas of:  Construction Trades, Automotive and Transportation, and Culinary Hospitality.  Prior to this effort, there was little, if any, FREE middle school career exploration curriculum related to these particular career pathways.  Efforts are underway to digitize the ABEC developed curriculum with anticipated completion in the next year.  ABEC’s goal in developing these curricula was to ensure skills/information important to businesses and professionals in the field were embedded, as well as to ensure appropriate and meaningful hands-on activities and projects that would actively engage the business community in middle school career exploration and development classrooms.
    • During the 2021/2022 school year, a minimum of 4,700 middle school students per semester received career exploration activities through ABEC Projects. 
    • Through a community partner collaboration with CFA, ElevateEdAz, and the Pima County Schools Superintendents office, two externships were also conducted impacting approximately 100 teachers.


    Developing the workforce in your community! 


    See what the students are doing! 


    Construction slide show                            Computer Science slide show

    Public Safety slide show

    Career Exploration in Yuma! Check it out! 


    ACED and Workforce Readiness 2022 Year-End Summary

    ABEC supports the MY Future AZ Platform 

    In August 2021, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) launched MyFutureAZ (https://myfutureaz.pipelineaz.com/), a new career exploration and planning platform, for students across the state.  MyFutureAZ utilizes proven technology and infrastructure from Pipeline AZ, an Arizona career development and job skills exploration platform, to offer students comprehensive resources and support to plan for their future careers.  ABEC, through financial support provided by the AZ GEARUP and the Arizona Community Foundation,  and in collaboration with the Center for the Future of Arizona, provided financial support to extend MyFutureAZ into the middle grades. 

    ABEC is proud to have been a long-term partner in the establishment of this statewide technology platform that is accessible to all Arizona P20 students, parents, teachers and future employers for their career development, education  and information.  ABEC officers Jim Zaharis and Deb Raeder have been involved in helping this dream become a reality for well over 15 years. We are proud to have been part of this alignment to provide this free service to Arizona's rising generation as they find their way into the talent pipeline, build their careers and seek economic independence.

    The Arizona Coalition for Career Readiness

    This effort is part of ABEC’s involvement in the development of a statewide voluntary career education model integrating partners and existing independent successful components into an overall strategic plan to ensure all students have access to quality career awareness, exploration, preparation, and placement programs, of which PipelineAz and MyFutureAz are key components.    

    The work of key partners is also being integrated to form a cohesive, conceptual plan that can be understood, communicated, and utilized by all Arizona citizens.

    ABEC is uniquely qualified to help lead this work because it is a non-partisan, statewide organization with a focus on K-20 education fostered by business and community leaders and partners.  The report and recommendations of the Pipeline AZ Education Leadership Group’s report (in which ABEC played a leading role), Dear Arizona:  A Call from Educators – Reimagining Career Development for All Arizona Students, is being utilized to guide this work.

    The Arizona Coalition for Career Readiness Leadership team has been formed and, staffed by Rachel Yanoff, is working diligently to ensure all students/schools/communities with career related options:

    • Support the continued development of an integrated technology one-stop portal for students, families, and employers that optimizes access to currently available resources.
    • Develop strategies that provide equal opportunity for education, career development and training for all Arizona students.
    • Develop strategies to ensure available resources and human capital to deliver quality career development to students.
    • Facilitate a process to develop or expand a state level mechanism to focus the state’s effort in making Arizona a premier producer of talent for the workforce pipeline.

    Through ABEC’s collaborative partnerships, a solid foundation is in place to ensure students and communities with:

    • Equitable access to career related options;
    • A singular, shared technology tool; and
    • Feedback loop for education/industry.

    This compilation of many years of efforts will now explore the possibility of Arizona legislation modeled after “Talent Ready Utah” which was a direct product of business leadership in Utah which ABEC now seeks to mimic in Arizona as well!


    And More from Amazon Web Services and the Garcia Foundation

    Collaborating with Amazon, the Arizona Department of Education,  CTEDs from around the State, and the community college system in Maricopa, Pima, and Yuma counties, ABEC continues to play a pivotal role in the plan to implement the Amazon Web Based (AWS) certification project statewide, which also provides a model to align certification programs from middle school through high school, community college and beyond.  Last year, programs were piloted in Yuma Union High School District, the Mesa School District, the Buckeye Union High School District, Amphitheater Unified School District, Saddle Mountain Unified School District, and East Valley Institute of Technology, among others.   Through a generous grant from the Garcia Foundation, Title I students across Arizona can now take AWS certification exams for free!  Contact ABEC for more information!


    Grants and Partnerships

    Thanks to the GEAR UP, Sundt, and Arizona Community Foundation grants, ABEC has been able to expand a toolbox of programs to both urban and rural areas of Arizona including Maricopa County, Pinal, Pima, and Yuma counties.   Efforts are underway to expand into Coconino, Yavapai, Navajo, Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties.   ABEC is also thrilled to continue to partner with Mesa Public Schools in support of their career pathway programs. These efforts included support of the Mesa Public Schools Diploma Plus Graduation Program, expanded middle school career pathway opportunities, and forming summer and school year end partnerships with Boeing, Empire Caterpillar (and more!) including the virtual opportunities provided by Edge Factor.


    ESSER Grant

    ABEC’s primary program is the well-established, sustainable, award-winning ACED Project, which has provided the foundation and proven strategy to engage business AND education partners in creating meaningful career exploration programs for students.  The overall goal is to assist students grades 6-14 in making informed decisions regarding their education; bridge the gap between rigorous academics and relevancy to real work environments; and provide an understanding of critical employability skills or credentials needed to succeed in the workforce.

    ABEC’s ESSER III Grant will be used to continue to develop and expand career exploration & development programs throughout Arizona that guide students to discovery and nurturing of career aspirations; connects success in school to success in the workforce; and provides another link for meeting Arizona’s future economic and workforce.


    Yes, ABEC Supports Mental/Behavioral Health Efforts, too!

    In collaboration with Bring Change to Mind (BC2M), ABEC has endorsed and supported the growth of vital mental health services to students throughout Arizona via the formation of clubs on individual campuses.  The clubs give students a chance to openly discuss and learn about mental health issues; taking the stigma out of these vital discussions in both peer and faculty led groups.  We expect the Bring Change To Mind program to continue to grow and flourish with Arizona schools and students in 2023.


    And Don’t Forget To Look Up!!

    ABEC, in coordination with the Arizona Science Foundation and the Mesa Education Foundation, is exploring the creation of a pilot astronomy program that would serve many east valley students. 


    These collaborative efforts exemplify the work of ABEC in making progress in service to Arizona students, schools, and districts, and businesses! We anticipate even more opportunities like these to continue into 2023!


    These outstanding collaborative efforts have been nurtured with passion and dedication by Dr. James Zaharis, Executive Vice President, ABEC, and Ms. Debra Raeder, Vice President, ABEC, and director of the ACED project.

    For more information on any of these projects or how your school, business, or community can get involved, contact either Jim, by email at Jim@azbec.org or Deb, by email at debra@azbec.org


    Thank you! 


    And over 300 businesses' on-going support in materials, supplies,  and in-kind time and funds! 

  • Wondering how you can be involved in a meaningful way in developing your talent pipeline?

    Develop the workforce in your community!   ABEC's award winning Career Exploration Project!


    The ABEC Career Exploration and Development (ACED) Project, in collaboration with business and community partners, introduces middle and high school students to different career pathways for the purpose of

    • helping students better understand the relevancy and application of the courses they take in school; 
    • introducing information and hands-on activities that are community driven and focused on key workforce demands and career; and
    • helping students understand and make wise course selections in high school.



    The Career Exploration and Development Project provides a meaningful and successful project for business and education to partner, and is designed to meet the shared common goal of preparing students to enter and succeed in the workforce. ABEC wants all Arizona high school graduates to be prepared for either post-secondary education or the workforce and so recognizes that there must be a focus on the "forgotten middle" -- those years when our youth start to make informed or uninformed decisions about their futures. Business partners are eager to participate because this project provides them a meaningful role in shaping career modules and providing classroom presentations and hands-on activities that support students in recognizing and pursuing careers that will help meet future economic and workforce demands.


    ABEC specifically targets schools with limited capacity to implement career exploration activities on a large scale, providing a successful framework for businesses to partner with schools. 


    • Collaboration with Business Partnerships to leverage expertise and resources and provide career exploration activities aligned with future workforce needs. 
    • Career Exploration Activities customized to meet the needs of each school, the students they serve, and participating business partners.
    • Professional Development to prepare teachers in implementing career exploration software/curriculum.
    • Parent Engagement including parent meetings, surveys, and activities related to the career exploration project. 


    Join ABEC today and become a SUSTAINING PARTNER of this exciting project that provides your business a direct role in developing your workforce of tomorrow!

    For more information on this exciting opportunity contact: 

    Debra Raeder
    ABEC Vice President Programs,  
    phone: 623-512-2124; email: debra@azbec.org



    The Career Exploration and Development Project -- over the past 10 years --  has impacted well over 10,000 middle school students, providing approximately 450,000 hours of direct career exploration activities in multiple career modules in high wage, high demand career pathways including:  Engineering & Design, Construction Trades, Automotive and Heavy Equipment, Health Care, Agri-Science, Information Technology, and Cyber Security.   It is estimated that 300+ business and community partners have participated in the project, providing financial or in-kind support that exceeds $750,000.




    It can be argued that one way to measure success is whether the project can garner news media interest; win local, state, or national awards or recognition; or that students in the project are also participating in or winning local, regional, state or national competitions.  Proudly, the Career Exploration & Development Project can boast success in all of these areas as the project has grown and expanded over the past six years. 

    • Landmark School was awarded first runner-up for the prestigious WestMarc Best of the West, Educational Program Award in November 2017.
    • ABEC received the ACPE 2017 Pathways Award for the AMSCEP at the ACPE Higher Education 13th Annual Conference in December 2017.
    • In 2016 and 2017, two Landmark teams, as part of the IT Modules, participated in the First Lego League Robotics regional competition. In 2017, Sunset Vista also had two teams from the IT Module participate in a regional competition. 
    • In 2016 and 2017, the Landmark Health Module partnered with the Moon Valley High School student health care club, AzHOSA, and students competed both years at the state convention winning top awards and the opportunity for students to compete each year at the national competition in Florida and Texas respectively.   
    • The Arizona Chapter of the Associated General Contractors Young Constructors Forum received the 2017 Associated General Contractors’ Community Special Recognition Award for work with and support of the Landmark Construction Module.
    • The Landmark Fire CERT Module received a 2017 FEMA Individual and Community Preparedness (ICP) Awards Honorable Mention.  

    Download the 6-year (2023-2019) summary report.



    ABEC was formed by Arizona's business, education, and community leaders who understand that our future economic success is directly linked to the success of our K-12 schools. Education is a shared responsibility among all community stakeholders: the family unit, the educational provider and future employers. In its commitment to improve student achievement and strengthen the state's future workforce, ABEC has realized that there is a need and strong interest from various stakeholders for more quality partnerships between schools and businesses. Such quality partnerships will ultimately lead to improved student achievement and a stronger work force of tomorrow.

    Not all business leaders actively advocate for specific public policy issues; but many are interested in public K-12 schools and are willing to assist. Many businesses are looking to invest their time and money into education, but want to be certain that their investments are tied to results.  Understanding that school resources are limited, and that the time businesses have to partner is valuable, ABEC committed to developing and implementing a project that excites and motivates students about their education and future world of work.