Weekly Columns

As the summer draws to a close, students and workers alike will experience a renewed focus on the development of workforce-readiness skills with teachers and industry leaders working to create a job-ready and career-bound workforce. Arkansas is eager to continue building a strong foundation to meet the needs of modern businesses. Recent efforts in Congress will help advance this effort even further.   

Communities across Arkansas have been ready to welcome new workers to meet the demands of local manufacturers and industry. In recent years, Arkansas has implemented measures to identify the skills necessary to fill these roles. It has become clear that tailored educational programs and occupational skills training are essential to hardworking Arkansans’ ability to thrive. 

This is happening in the classroom where traditional coursework like computer science equips students with the skills needed to meet the demands of 21stcentury employers. Universities, along with vocational and technical schools across Arkansas, are collaborating with local businesses to advance local economic interests and help create innovative curricula to match the needs in the community and region. Initiatives like the Associated Industries of Arkansas Foundation’s Be Pro Be Proud were launched in response to the need for highly-skilled labor for businesses and manufacturers across the state that require specialized training, not a traditional four-year degree. 

Career and technical education is increasingly important to Arkansas. State officials say it is part of the key to prosperity in the Natural State’s future. A wide range of interests from education to industry have repeatedly requested for Congress to modernize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act to help support students and adults going back to school to gain the education and training they need to find high-skill, high-wage or in-demand jobs. In July, with my support, Congress passed the reauthorization of CTE funding and the president signed it into law. 

This is the first reauthorization of Perkins CTE in more than a decade. It makes important updates to the law that funds career and technical education programs. We made reforms to limit the role of the federal Department of Education, an important step that will provide states with greater authority to determine the best ways to help their students learn and workers remain competitive. This flexibility strengthens Arkansas’s control over its goals and programs to best prepare and develop its workforce. 

States and local school districts will have more freedom to spend the limited program dollars they receive to benefit students rather than on complying with expensive and burdensome federal reporting requirements. 

Providing resources for workforce education is vital to the economic growth and prosperity of Arkansas. Training students and workers to learn technical skills or a trade will help fill well-paying jobs today and in the future.