Developing the workforce of the future

by Mike Preston ([email protected]) 805 views 

Your team at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission travels tens of thousands of miles every year in search of opportunities to help create good-paying jobs for our fellow Arkansans here at home. Without fail, the topic that rises to the top of our discussions with national and international business leaders is talent.

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

While this is a need in every industry, it is, perhaps, most pronounced in the area of advanced manufacturing, which continues to undergo a technological revolution.

Pace Industries, headquartered in Fayetteville, is a leader in identifying and utilizing advanced manufacturing solutions to improve efficiencies and respond to customer demand. The company’s high-tech plant in Harrison makes thin-wall die castings and traditional die casting applications for a variety of customers including automobile manufacturers.

To ensure current and prospective employees are up-to-date on high-tech knowledge and skills, Pace works closely with North Arkansas College in Harrison. The college has an ever-changing curriculum for students seeking careers at Pace, and other area companies. That includes hands-on use of tools and robotics that are identical to what will be used in the workplace. The community and the college combined to apply for, and receive, an almost $1 million Regional Workforce Implementation Grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to help them stay ahead of the game.

The Modern Workplace Program, administered through AEDC, is also an essential program for educators at our state’s 22 two-year colleges. Through this effort, educators will gain a better understanding of what will be expected of their students and the career options available to them.

Steel is one of Arkansas’ emerging industries. Nucor Corp., Nucor 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.

All pre-employment and post-employment training for Big River Steel is conducted at Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville. Early on, the college sent four full-time instructors to Germany so they could learn the exact process used by Big River Steel, then customize every training component for what the company requires.

Our two-year colleges and one technical institute work to tailor curriculum to deliver courses designed to grow the workforce.  To help, AEDC offers the Business and Industry Training Program to provide financial assistance to new and expanding companies for recruiting workers, pre-employment training and on-the-job training.

While our two-year colleges are the backbone of our workforce development efforts, we actually start much earlier. Arkansas students can learn how to solve problems using communication and teamwork — skills needed to succeed in education and in today’s global economy.  The program is called Kata in the Classroom and is a method used to teach middle and high school students scientific problem solving skills.

Over the next 10 years, industry demands will undoubtedly continue to change. In Arkansas, we’ll stand ready to meet those demands with a trained and skilled workforce and a continued investment in the next generation of industry-relevant talent.

Now, more than ever, Arkansas is open for business. And, our people are ready to work.
Editor’s note: Mike Preston is executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.