Educators and civic and business leaders continue to research options for involving more high school students in career training programs, particularly students in the far reaches of western Benton County and southern Washington County.
Sabino Miranda (left), a student at Northwest Technical Institute, shows Jose Albarran, Rogers High School student, auto body sanding techniques Nov. 20 at the NTI campus in Springdale.
Martin Nies, instructor at Northwest Technical Institute, teaches Shemar Holloway, a student at Rogers High School, auto body repair sanding techniques Nov. 20 at Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale. For more photos, go to www.nwadg.com/photos.
A map showing the location of the Northwest Technical Institute campus (shown in red) in Springdale.
High schools at a minimum offer three career and technology programs: agriculture, business and marketing, and family and consumer sciences, the modern version of what once was home economics, said Cheryl Pickering, career and technical education coordinator for the region through Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative in Farmington. Most area high schools offer more, but rural schools have a limited ability to pay for specialized equipment and instructors for high-demand entry-level jobs.
Projected needs for workers
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided a 10-year outlook on the number of jobs that will open for a variety of occupations. The total considers growth in occupations, as well as the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation.
Occupation Growth Replacement Total
Sales and related occupations 4,816 7,855 12,671
Office and administrative support 5,781 8,197 13,978
Business and financial operations 2,606 2,583 5,189
Management occupations 2,604 3,386 5,990
Healthcare practitioners and technicians 2,864 2,037 4,901
Computer and mathematical positions 1,633 1,042 2,675
Architecture and engineering 622 797 1,419
Life, physical and social science 284 432 716
Education, training and library 2,736 3,074 5,810
Transportation and material moving 3,757 4,910 8,667
Installation, maintenance and repair 1,676 1,976 3,652
Construction and extraction 2,361 1,435 3,796
Production 2,273 4,920 7,193
Source: Mike Harvey, Northwest Arkansas Council
“With our changing economy, changing technology we are growing beyond those three,” Pickering said. “We’ve got lots of job opportunities, and it’s hard to find qualified workers.”
Rural students in 11th and 12th grade can apply for programs offered by the Secondary Career Center at Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale, but the center is small and the location is too distant for some students, Pickering said.
Options under study are new career centers and a satellite campus of Northwest Technical Institute. Consultants hired by the Northwest Arkansas Council also are studying what workers companies need, what types of workers the area is producing and what gaps exist. A report is expected in the first quarter of next year.
“There’s tons of excitement and momentum for career and technology education,” Pickering said. “All of the school districts in our region are doing something to enhance, expand career and technology education.”
Top leaders of nearly all the school districts in the area are scheduled to visit a career and technology center in Oklahoma City next week to research possibilities, Pickering said. The trip will include representatives of the Arkansas Department of Career Education and members of the State Board of Education, she said.
A long-term dream is to develop two more regional centers for high school students to give students in rural districts more options, Pickering said.
Area employers have reported difficulty finding employees for business and financial positions, technical positions, teaching positions, skilled production, transportation and construction, said Mike Harvey, who focuses on workforce and economic development for the Northwest Arkansas Council.
Harvey has done some analysis of job openings and how many potential workers are coming out of area training programs, but he hopes to have a better idea of gaps that exist with an in-depth study being done by consultants from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. The group began an analysis in October that is expected to take until early next year to complete.
Harvey hopes to have answers to questions about whether high schools and other area career programs are able to produce the number of workers needed in a variety of occupations, he said. If enough capacity exists, the issue will be about generating more interest among teenagers. If they are not, the report will help clarify what types of programs are needed.
School leaders within the past few years have created new programs and new types of schools to respond to the demand for qualified workers, Harvey said. New types of schools are the Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy, the Career Academy of Siloam Springs, Rogers New Technology High School and the School of Innovation in Springdale.
Career programs aren’t intended to limit options, but to give students multiple points along their education to exit into the workforce and to enter higher education programs.
“They’re working, they’re earning a living at a higher wage,” Harvey said. “There’s a ton of viable options for them out there.”
In the short term, Northwest Technical Institute is requesting approval from the Department of Career Education to add a satellite campus in Gravette that would offer a welding program for high school students in Benton County, said Stephanie Trolinger, director of the institute’s Secondary Career Center. Classes would be limited to 15 students because of safety concerns.
“Currently, the students located in the school districts in the Gravette area have a drive time of 45 minutes one way,” Trolinger said. “This will benefit those students so that they may be able to participate in our welding program of study, and earn concurrent credit towards an NTI welding diploma.”
The state has 25 career training centers for high school students, 15 associated with a post-secondary school and nine based at high schools, according to the Department of Career Education.
Any expansion is limited by funding, available space and class size requirements set by the Arkansas Department of Education, said Charisse Childers, director of the Department of Career Education. Program and funding needs are under review.
Northwest Technical Institute reached its 40th anniversary this year. The institute was created as a vocational school for adults. The institute has about 250 adults in its post-secondary programs.
The Secondary Career Center for high school students was moved to the Northwest Technical Institute campus in Springdale about five years ago, Trolinger said. Enrollment has grown from 188 high school students in the 2011-12 school year to about 250 students for the past two years.
Prior to 2005, the Secondary Career Center was operated by the Fayetteville School District at what was the West Campus Technical Center. In 2004, the district turned over operation of the center to NorthWest Arkansas Community College. The college worked with the institute to transition secondary career education to Springdale.
The number of high school students enrolled in the Secondary Career Center represents 2.1 percent of the 11,650 students in 11th and 12th grade in Benton and Washington counties. About 19 percent of those are in schools outside the largest cities, Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale.
Northwest Technical Institute offers eight programs for high school students in Springdale and some programs offered at five other locations, Trolinger said. The institute partners with Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville and the Career Academy of Hair Design, which has campuses in Fayetteville, Rogers, Siloam Springs and Springdale.
Automotive collision repair, automotive service technology, diesel and truck technology and welding are offered only at the Springdale campus, a trip that would take about 45 minutes to an hour for students in Lincoln, Decatur, Gentry and Gravette. Those programs lead to certifications for some high demand jobs in the area, Trolinger said.
The Secondary Career Center would be able to expand the welding program to Benton County because a culinary arts program will not be offered next school year to high school students through the Secondary Career Center, Trolinger said. The center has enough welding equipment to teach welding both in Gravette and Springdale.
“There’s only so much we’re able to do with what we have,” Trolinger said.
Working with other schools
Some school districts in Benton County have organized into the Western Benton County Career Consortium to increase opportunities for students, Gravette High School Principal Jay Chalk said. The consortium is working with the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative, the institute and the community college.
Chalk is excited about the possibility of a satellite campus for welding, he said. He developed a heightened interest in career education programs about three years ago when he became principal of Gravette High School. While the district had programs to prepare students for college, Chalk realized 45 percent of graduates from Gravette High School did not continue their education after high school.
“They just had a diploma,” he said. “They were out making minimum wage. That was a problem.”
Chalk wanted to develop short-term programs for juniors and seniors to prepare students to take exams for industry certifications, he said. He also wanted courses to count for high school and college credit. The college credit might give students enough confidence to continue their education, he said.
Two years ago the high school started a certified nursing assistant program, Chalk said. The high school added a heating and air-conditioning program last school year. The programs are open to students from other nearby schools, including Decatur and Gentry.
Gravette High School, with 600 students, would have a difficult time offering the variety of programs available to students at larger high schools, Chalk said. Working with other schools makes it more feasible to sustain new programs, Chalk said.
“We’ve got to do something to provide them the skills for them to have a career,” Chalk said.
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