Weekly Columns

In the coming weeks, high schools and colleges across the state will recognize graduates of the class of 2014. As the season of pomp and circumstance kicks off I am reminded of my days as a student in Fort Smith. I fondly recall the day I wore my cap and gown for the graduation ceremony at Northside High School. There has been remarkable progress at providing more educational opportunities statewide since I graduated. The strong focus on education includes expanding additional opportunities for higher education and preparing students to be active and contributing members of their communities. 

During a recent event in Fort Smith, Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Grant Tennille explained how education is the key to future prosperity. Partnering with local and state economic development leaders allows schools to identify skills that employers are looking for. This provides them with the ability to develop appropriate training so students can find employment in a field they are skilled in and businesses will have the workforce they need to operate. This partnership is mutually beneficial and helps lay the foundation for recruiting businesses. Fortunately in Arkansas there are proactive measures in place to train the workforce to meet the needs of employers. 

Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs offered in high schools across the state provide students with trade skills. Students can graduate with certificates and concurrent credits which increase employment potential and successful completion of a post-secondary program. Last school year, nearly 74 percent of all ninth-12th grade students were in enrolled in CTE classes. The partnerships these programs have with community leaders and businesses are invaluable. 

Similarly, the University of Arkansas Fort Smith plays an integral role in the community by advancing local economic interests. Businesses are taking advantage of how their involvement with the school and current students can help them improve their productivity and increase their bottom line. The school works to find the needs of local businesses and develops curriculums that will meet those needs. 

Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) is a statewide program that partners with education, industry and communities to identify and meet the needs of local employers. The skills students learn can be tailored to fit the requirements of businesses. 

Education is an important component in Arkansas’s economic growth. Programs like these are an investment in the community and provide more opportunities to be successful in the workforce. As graduates turn their tassels; local, state and federal leaders are working to make sure they have prospects for a life of successful employment. Job creation and protection is something all elected leaders must focus on because it’s what the people of Arkansas want, need and deserve.