UAFS extends enrollment for Future Fit program, says program benefits manufacturing sector

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,078 views 

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith has extended the enrollment deadline for its Future Fit program in order to allow more students to take advantage of the program that aims to meet the region’s manufacturing employment needs while preparing unemployed and underemployed citizens for high-skill, high-paying careers.

Future Fit, a partnership program between UAFS and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), is free to qualified participants.

“The Future Fit program is a direct effort to help Arkansas manufacturers continue to grow and employ a skilled workforce. A job in the manufacturing industry is one of the most stable and secure jobs,” states the AEDC’s Future Fit website.

Students completing the program will earn a certificate of proficiency for production operator and assembler, said Kendall Ross, director of the UAFS Center for Business and Professional Development. Students will be proficient in the skills for an entry level position in the local manufacturing industries, he added.

“So many Arkansans are now out of work due to COVID-19, and the ability to prepare them for well-paying, stable, ‘recession-proof’ jobs is incredibly important. The combination of technical and safety training, along with the soft skills of workplace behavior and ethics, proves invaluable to both students and their future employers,” Ross said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that on average workers in the manufacturing jobs stay with the job for 9.1 years, which is the highest tenure average of all private-sector industries, a UAFS press release said. The Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show the average manufacturing worker in the United States earns $81,289.

The program is also a help for the manufacturing industry in the Fort Smith area, Ross said, noting that many companies need skilled workers. He noted that Rheem Manufacturing recently needed to fill 68 positions with workers with the skillset students completing the Future Fit program have. To date, they have only been able to fill 50 of those positions, leaving the company in need of 18 more skilled workers, Ross said.

Students completing the four-week program at UAFS will be qualified to apply for those positions and many others in the region, Ross said. A study by the Manufacturing Institute shows 80% of manufacturers across the United States report “a moderate or severe shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled production positions,” states AEDC. When the nine students who completed the first class of Future Fit at UAFS in the fall of 2019, six already had secured jobs, the UAFS press release said. Students completing the program have been hired by Rheem, Trane, Bekaert Corporation and other industries in the region, Ross said.

When the program first began at UAFS, it was designed as a 12-week course offered three hours a night three days a week. Because of COVID-19, the course has been modified. The program took on a shorter timeline and moved online in order to better accommodate participants and get them into their new careers more quickly.

The first three weeks of training are online and will include math, safety, critical thinking, blueprint reading, collaboration, work ethic and interpersonal skills. Some machine operations simulation work also will be completed online, the press release said. Students are assigned a learning coach from the university who will help students and ensure their progress, Ross said.
While much of the online work will be done by participants on their own, there will be one virtual weekly class, offered both in the morning and in the evening.

“This will keep everything on track and make sure everyone is on the same page and meeting deadlines,” Ross said.

After the online portion of the class, students will enter the laboratory for hands-on learning with more than $60,000 of training equipment contributed by the Arkansas Office of Skills Development (OSD), the press release said.

“We won’t have everyone in the lab at one time. We will stagger it, so there are only eight or so students at a time,” Ross said.

Deadline to enroll for the program is Sept. 1. The class will begin Sept. 8. Applicants must be 18 and have a high school diploma or a GED as well as a computer and reliable internet access. They also must have earned a bronze level ACT National Career Readiness Certificate. That test is offered free at UAFS, Ross said. To apply contact Linda Blair at [email protected] or (479) 788-7743.