The effort to develop a skilled workforce continues to build momentum in all corners of Arkansas. This statewide endeavor to promote workforce development and career and technical training programs is a priority. It is part of the key to a prosperous future for the Natural State.
Close to a quarter of our skilled professionals are at or near retirement age. Arkansas’s employers need talented workers who are prepared to step into the highly-skilled positions being vacated, as well as new ones opening up as the Natural State lures more manufacturers and industry here to set up shop.
Providing resources for workforce education is vital to the economic growth and viability of our state. Teaching students and workers technical skills or a trade will help fill well-paying jobs today and in the future. That’s why Congress last year modernized the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act to help students and adults gain the education and training they need to find high-skill, high-wage or in-demand jobs.
Having spent much of the past month traveling around Arkansas, I saw how businesses are partnering with universities, vocational and technical schools to create curriculums that promote the needs of local industries. Secondary schools are examining the needs of local companies and developing coursework and programs to train students in the skills local employers require.
As I learned firsthand, the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton is developing its local workforce and helping supply the next generation of workers for regional manufacturers and industry. The education and training available at its state-of-the-art Workforce Training Center provide students with occupational skills that prepare them for a successful future in careers with well-paying jobs.
I also saw how the Little Rock Job Corps Center and Pulaski Technical College are collaborating to improve student retention in the Job Corps program and expanding career opportunities. Job Corps programs are critical to workforce development in our state. These programs offer invaluable skills training in underserved areas. That’s why I fought to prevent the closure of the Cass Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Franklin County. Fortunately, the United States Department of Agriculture reversed its plan to shutter a number of Job Corps locations, including Cass.
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce has been a driving force behind workforce education initiatives. It launched the “Be Pro, Be Proud” campaign in response to the need for highly skilled labor for state businesses and manufacturers that require specialized training rather than a four-year degree.
I was pleased to join business leaders from across the state earlier this month as the Chamber unveiled an expansion of the program. This edition utilizes an 18-wheeler that includes simulated experiences of skills needed for well-paying careers. The hope is the virtual reality offerings will inspire middle and high school students to pursue these technical career opportunities.
Building a pipeline of talent provides businesses with the workforce they need to operate. These new approaches to promoting and paving pathways to skilled labor careers stand to make a significant difference for the livelihoods of hardworking future generations of Arkansas and our economy.