A skilled workforce shortage is a major issue facing many employers in the region, state and nation. NorthWest Arkansas Community College and Northwest Technical Institute are trying to reduce education bureaucracy and provide a “one track system” for their students while also addressing workforce training capacity constraints.
NWACC President Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson and NTI President Dr. Blake Robertson signed a new partnership agreement in Bentonville on Wednesday (May 6) that outlines how up to 30 hours of credit earned in career and technical areas at NTI can be applied toward an associate’s degree at NWACC.
Robertson said educators across the state have for year talked about the workforce track or the academic track but with this reinforced agreement now creates a one-track system for those students who start out wanting employable job skills. He said they can get that workforce training at NTI, but while working some decide to seek college degrees which are sometimes needed for advancement opportunities.
Jorgenson said NWACC continues to look for opportunities to partner with other institutions accepting credits that can be applied toward traditional degrees because it is the best way to serve a diverse group of students seeking higher education. NWACC already has signed similar agreements with Ecclesia College in Springdale and the University of Arkansas. A Missouri Southern University agreement signing slated for later this week.
“The average age of our students is 26, so we are accustomed to serving a wide range of student needs which is an important function of the community college. We also work with the Northwest Arkansas Council to address workforce training needs and curricula development that our manufacturers and other large employers want,” she said.
Robertson said NTI does the same, and works with area chambers of commerce who are in touch with what local manufacturers need to ensure they a skilled workforce.
“We know if manufacturers can’t find the skilled workers they need to sustain those operations then their doors will close,” Robertson said.
A recent survey conducted by the area’s five largest chamber of commerce and the Northwest Arkansas Council found workforce issues were among the most voiced by 487 employers in the two-county area. Mike Harvey, an economist with the Council, said one eye-opening metric unveiled by the smaller employers this year as well as large manufacturers is the shortage of a qualified workforce to many entry-level positions going unfilled. Harvey said the shortage has been well-documented but this survey found that needs were more deficient at the community level than the industry at large.
“We have to do a better job with K-12 education offering more vocational training. There is some good work underway, but more is needed. K-12 is going to be the biggest solution to this problem long term,” Harvey said.
NTI and NWACC are already working with some area high schools to address the workforce shortfall issues and signed a secondary student agreement on Wednesday to partner in this area.
High school students enrolled in various workforce training programs such as criminal justice, food production service and management, medical dental assisting and certified nursing assistance programs through NTI will get the training at NWACC facilities by NWACC instructors. In exchange NTI will pay NWACC 90% of the funding received from Arkansas Department of Career Education and the tuition paid by area high school students. NTI will keep 10% of the funds.
Robertson said NTI is out of space and unable to add more secondary or post secondary students. He said this agreement with NWACC for the some of the specialized secondary school training is a big help given there also is more demand for post secondary programs in areas such as computer networking that deal with cloud-based technologies, ethical hacking and computerized numeric controller operations.
“We are in talks with Synergy Tech which is located on our campus about merging with NTI. This would give NTI the room it needs to expand its technology-based course offerings. There is more demand than we can service at this time. We have instructors sharing classrooms and must cap enrollment in many of our programs,” Robertson said.
NWACC continues to grow its local footprint but Jorgenson said expanding physically is just part of the solution because ever-changing technology permeates deep into many of the disciplines taught at the college.
“It’s not enough just to hire the brightest and most qualified teachers because we then must reinforce with ongoing training opportunities so our professors can stay abreast of the latest technology applications being used in their respective fields,” Jorgenson said.