Satisfying the demand for workers in business, the trades, manufacturing and production will take time, but a new study offers some hope, a regional workforce expert said.
Denver Dishon, 17, a junior at Siloam Springs High School, practices welding with an arc welder Friday at the Career Academy at Siloam Springs High School.
Students exit the Career Academy Friday between classes at Siloam Springs High School.
The study conducted by consultants based in Chicago provides a detailed look at how well career education and exploration programs offered in schools fit the needs of the region's employers.
Estimated annual hiring needs for skilled labor in Northwest Arkansas over next 10 years
• 4,100 in business occupations: customer service representatives and technical support; sales, finance, insurance and real estate; accountants, human resources and analysts; and managers
• 880 in transportation: warehouse, drivers and supervisors
• 800 in health fields: specialists, nurses, techs, aides and personal care
• 525 in education fields: teachers, college and university faculty, teaching assistants, substitute teachers and child care workers
• 425 in construction trades: plumbers, electricians, carpenters, equipment operators and concrete
• 400 in maintenance: mechanical, electronic, industrial and general maintenance
• 265 in production: machine operators and technicians, welders and machinists
• 240 in information technology: software and web developers, systems and network analysts, help desk support and database administrators
Source: Northwest Arkansas Council
Roughly eight in 10 jobs created in the region come from existing businesses. If businesses are not able to find enough workers, they will struggle to grow, especially with an unemployment rate that dropped to 3.1 percent in June, said Michael Harvey, chief operating officer for the Northwest Arkansas Council.
"This is an issue for us so much, so it's affecting our ability to grow," Harvey said. "In an economy running hot, it starts to make me nervous that we're basically going to run out of people."
High school programs make up about half of the career education programs in the region, but the programs offered do not match up with the needs of employers, according to a summary of what consultants for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning learned through their research.
Career courses in high school remain focused on agriculture, business and family and consumer science, according to a results of a recent study. Some courses, such as in some agriculture and business, are applicable to the workforce.
The consultants recommended increasing the availability of certificates or short-term degree programs to prepare workers in early childhood and adult education, maintenance and repair, transportation, construction, health care, business and finance, information technology and hospitality.
At the university level, the consultants recommended increased attention in degree programs for retail and business analytics, economics, web development, software development, and database and network administration.
The report will help the council, schools, higher education institutions and businesses know where to focus attention, Harvey said.
"You can start to see where you can put a dent in this," he said. "I was actually encouraged. There's no short-term fix. This is something we can tackle."
The greatest deficit is in business occupations, including for customer service representatives, salesmen for manufacturers and accountants, with an expected demand for about 4,000 workers per year for the next 10 years, Harvey said. The region supplies about 30 percent of the workers needed.
The work conducted over the past year by consultants included an inventory of education programs, a series of onsite visits with educators and business representatives and a review of state reports on career and technical education. The consultants also partnered with Avalanche Consulting for an analysis of the labor market and gaps in the supply and demand for workers.
Northwest Arkansas stood out for its robust and growing economy, the mix of companies in the region and a business community that is actively engaged with high schools and institutions of higher education, said Jade Arn, senior consultant for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.
Consultants recommended businesses and schools identify data they want to measure going forward, including information they are not required to include in reports to state agencies, Arn said.
School leaders shared common concerns about policies, including those related to career education programs and curriculum offered, requirements for how long a student must spend in a class to earn credit for graduation and issues with universities awarding credit toward a degree for coursework done in career and technical education programs, Arn said.
"There are certainly challenges you face," Arn said. "The will is obviously there."
Next steps include forming two committees with business leaders and superintendents, said Charles Cudney, director of the Northwest Arkansas Education Service Cooperative in Farmington. It's a regional organization governed by superintendents of school districts in Benton, Madison and Washington counties.
A policy committee will focus on state policies and regulations of agencies that have oversight of education, career education and higher education, Cudney said. Another issue is communication with parents, especially when it comes to the idea of some students not going to college immediately after high school.
"That's sometimes a difficult conversation to have," Cudney said. "Sometimes parents aren't receptive because they already have a track in mind."
A committee on programming will focus on issues such as how to embed skills required in some of the required courses for graduation into career courses, Cudney said. That committee also would have a focus on internships and ideas for giving juniors and seniors the ability to gain experience with business and industry.
The Northwest Arkansas Council has worked for several years on projects to build a stronger link between businesses and school as part of a broader effort to increase adults' levels of education and upgrade the skills of the workforce.
Within the past couple of years, nearly every high school in Benton and Washington counties have developed partnerships with businesses and industries in response to increasing interest in promoting careers in high schools have grown. These efforts have resulted in the start of several new programs over the past few years for high school students.
Siloam Springs High School became a district-run conversion charter school to create the Career Academy of Siloam Springs within the high school. The academy offers a two-year industrial technologies program for juniors and seniors that includes training applicable to a variety of trades and fields of study students could pursue at the university level, said Jody Wiggins, assistant superintendent.
The program is an example of the increased interest manufacturers and industry leaders have shown in wanting to work with schools to prepare students with skills they need in their employees, Wiggins said. About 10 manufacturers in and near Siloam Springs worked with the district to establish the academy, including providing money to help pay for the facility and equipment.
"Many of our manufacturers have gone to automated systems in their manufacturing plants that need highly skilled technicians who can troubleshoot and repair robots and machines that keep the factory running," Wiggins said.
NW News on 08/22/2016
Print Headline: New report focuses on gaps in training programs for workforce