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GUEST WRITER: On the job path

Industry can prepare students by Mike Rogers and Amy Johnson Special to the Democrat-Gazette | October 24, 2019 at 3:16 a.m.

Nothing keeps us up at night more than worrying about our children's future. But one thing that puts our minds at ease is seeing how much the work force is evolving in their favor.

Job opportunities are so much more diverse and lucrative than they were five years ago, two years ago, or even last year. For example, gig workers--a growing sector of workers who are freelance or self-employed--earned more than $1 trillion in the U.S. just last year.

This jaw-dropping number is proof that we need to revisit traditional modes of thinking when it comes to work-force development. And we need to try new, innovative ways to prepare today's students for the possibilities that await them tomorrow. Career-readiness programs and partnerships can help us reach both of these goals.

That's why Tyson Foods, one of the largest food companies in the world, is partnering with schools across the country like Arkansas Virtual Academy (ARVA). Through this unique partnership, high school students are getting hands-on, one-of-a-kind experience as they learn about robotics, automation, advanced manufacturing and more.

They're learning all of this directly from the industry leaders who work in the field every day. Eleventh-grade student Caylie Sipes says this is the best part of the experience.

Caylie has dreams of becoming a personal chef and recently learned the ins and outs of food production from Tyson team members.

"It really opened my eyes," she told us. "I got to see so many different job opportunities ... I think it's important for all students to learn this."

Together, we're helping more students like Caylie learn hard skills such as material handling and basic construction, and hone professional skills like critical thinking and communication.

Across the country, we're seeing a serious gap in this kind of preparation and available jobs and workers with the skills required to fill them. In fact, this skills gap is affecting every industry--from health-care management and sales, to media and telecommunications. Fast-growing tech-driven fields like agriculture, health services, and business aren't immune to this trend.

With an increasing number of workers set to retire from these fields in the near future, it's becoming increasingly clear that we need to do more to prepare students to seize these opportunities. We also need to ensure that the ways we're educating them is keeping pace with the rapid growth of technology.

At Tyson, nearly 60 percent of industrial maintenance and refrigeration employees are 50 years old or older. If both students and adults don't realize jobs like this are essential, how are we going to fill these spots after our current workers retire?

This is just one example of many. Thankfully, the type of private/public sector approach that Tyson is using isn't just helping to shrink the skills gap; it's also exposing students to potential career paths they may not even know exist.

Starting this school year, some students will even have the chance to see Tyson's new Manufacturing and Automation Center in action. This is a specially designed space for engineers who develop new automated manufacturing tools, train team members on robotics programming and maintenance, and collaborate with robotics suppliers around the world.

With these efforts and others, we're not only showing our students innovative ways they can participate in the work force; we're also working toward making the South a hub of innovation.

Each of us, whether we work in education, at a private company, or for a government entity, need to do more to expose students to 21st century career opportunities--whether they're planning to pursue a four-year college degree, enter the work force right after high school, or do both.

It's our responsibility to help guide our children and give them the tools they need for growth.

Along the way, we need to remind ourselves that there's no one, single path that guarantees success. If we want our kids to eventually find more than just a job--if we want them to find fulfilling, rewarding, long-lasting opportunities instead--career readiness is an important tool to help them get there.


Mike Rogers is senior director of maintenance and refrigeration at Tyson Foods. For more information on opportunities at Tyson Foods, please visit Amy Johnson is the head of school for Arkansas Virtual Academy. For more information, visit

Editorial on 10/24/2019

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