Arkansas Meets Workforce Demands Through Innovative Education
Oct 06, 2017
Staff Reports

Rapid changes in our global marketplace require states like Arkansas to stay ahead of the growth in order to meet the needs of industry, especially in workforce development. 

Not only does Arkansas continue to lead the computer science and coding education movement nationwide, we are building foundations for student success in a variety of areas both in and outside of the classroom. 

When Governor Asa Hutchinson took office in January 2015, he began the task of developing a workforce initiative that includes private-public partnerships with industries, two-year colleges, technical colleges and high schools.  Through these mutually beneficial partnerships, students can have access to good-paying jobs after they graduate.

“No matter what job skills are needed for businesses currently operating in Arkansas or for businesses looking to relocate here, students are being given the opportunities to respond to the demands of industry,” said Gov. Hutchinson. 

The Arkansas steel industry continues to emerge as a leader in business. Nucor CorporationNucor Yamato, and Big River Steel all operate major advanced manufacturing facilities in Mississippi County in northeast Arkansas. Today, 5,500 Arkansans work in the steel industry, with much of their training provided through local community and technical colleges.

“We’ve done all of the pre-employment training for Big River Steel as well as the post-employment training,” said Dr. David Shemway, president of Arkansas Northeastern College. “We sent four of our full-time instructors to Germany so that they could learn the exact process used by Big River Steel so that we could customize every training component for what the company requires.”

Arkansas Northeastern College has also seen great success with their educational partnership with PACE Industries, a die-casting manufacturing and engineering solutions company.  PACE donated the expensive, high-tech equipment students required for training and Arkansas Northeastern provided customized workforce training and specialized class offerings. The mutually beneficial long-term partnership has greatly impacted workforce quality and opportunities and was even recognized with the first Northark Board of Trustees Partnership Award.

Bekaert Corporation operates a facility in Van Buren in northwest Arkansas that makes steel cabling and wiring for transportation, agricultural and other industries. It, too, relies on local technical colleges to train employees.

“We have a workforce development initiative that we created in cooperation with the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith,” said Melissa Turner, Bekaert plant manager. “They help us to train all of our electricians in programming techniques, and then those employees can get an advanced degree when they finish the program.  It’s a win-win for all of us.”

Arkansas’ timber industry, which has long been an economic driver in the state, is also adapting to the workforce demands created by new technologies.

“Our technology is advanced, and we have computer controls on our equipment, so we have to have a higher level of employee that really knows more than what was expected in the past,” said Bob Grygotis, general manager of Domtar, a forest services industry in Ashdown. “It’s not just about your muscle, it’s about what’s between your ears.”
Gov. Hutchinson has made technology-based education starting as early as fifth grade a priority of his administration.

“We recognize that in today’s global economy, it is our responsibility to introduce students to 21st-century career paths as early as middle school,” Gov. Hutchinson said. “While we are pleased with the growth of our computer coding initiatives in high schools throughout the state, we are equally excited about the computer science learning program called “Learning Blade,” which introduces middle-school students to careers in STEM and technology-related fields.” 

A better-educated workforce is a vital component of attracting business and industry. It’s about setting the stage for companies to come to Arkansas, grow here and be successful here.

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