Arkansas colleges attack skills gap from all angles

'How do we attract industry and businesses in this area so that we can employ the people who come to us for training'

Industries, school districts, and colleges in southeastern Arkansas banded together to earn more than $1.4 million in state funding for workforce training.

The region's population is declining and the skills gap is growing. About 236,000 adults in the state do not have the correct education credentials for available jobs.

Regional Workforce Grants, part of the Workforce Initiative Act of 2015, aim to change that by focusing on a few, but high-need, areas.

"Institutions have identified ways that they can connect with students still in high school, through technical concurrent credit courses, and connect students to degree options beyond associates degrees, which is where universities fit into the program," says Brett Powell, director of Arkansas Higher Education Department.

Who is responsible for closing the 'skills gap'?

Some schools, such as University of Arkansas (UA)-Monticello, earned some funding—but not as much as they requested. UA-Monticello received about $15,000 less than the $99,810 it asked for, but an official said the school can likely find that money elsewhere.

The initiative there looks to prepare students for in-demand jobs such as maintenance technicians and welders with companies including Georgia-Pacific Pump and Paper and JB's Diesel Doctor. The plan includes adding a diesel training associate degree to the Monticello campus and an electromechanical technology program to the McGehee campus. 
To the north, the Arkansas State University-Mountain Home also received grant funding for two similar projects: to graduate more computer programmers and to fill manufacturing positions.

"In so many rural educational institutions, you have students who come to you, and a lot of times you're training them for jobs that do not exist in your community," says Jay Jones, interim chancellor at UA-Monticello. "For us, it's how do we attract industry and businesses in this area so that we can employ the people who come to us for training and the people who grew up in southeast Arkansas" (Musa, Arkansas Online, 10/18).

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