A trailer where students could virtually learn how to weld, operate a train or work on a utility pole stopped at two local high schools this week.
Be Pro Be Proud, an initiative geared toward improving workforce education in Arkansas and four other states, brought a mobile venue showcasing several interactive exhibits of vocational jobs to White Hall High School on Monday and Tuesday and Friendship Aspire Academy Southeast Campus on Wednesday.
"The ultimate goal is to educate and open the minds of students and teachers who have not gotten to see what's out there," tour manager Montrell Thornton said. "A lot of folks already have a pathway to where they would go. We're not here to take away from that. We're here to add to it."
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas launched the Be Pro Be Proud initiative in 2016. At the time, there was a concern that the ongoing skilled workforce was aging out and there were not enough new hires to satisfy the demand.
Inside the trailer is a virtual engine where learners can sit and discover how to operate a train, a CNC router that's similar to a 3-D printer and a simulation commercial diesel vehicle, among other exhibits.
"Everything we do is education," Thornton said. "We're here to educate the teachers as well as the students."
According to a timeline of the initiative, Be Pro Be Proud targets high school and nontraditional students, skilled professionals, career coaches and others to break down myths about skilled trade professions and highlight many career opportunities the trades offer.
Be Pro Be Proud is also adopted in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
"The response to everything we do is very important for the kids," Thornton said. "When kids get a chance to hear the message and come out, it's like watching them play a video game. But instead of watching a video game, they're going to get to do real-life experience with a major sponsor and try one of these simulators that we offer. What that does is, when they leave off the mobile workshop, they can start the conversation with their teacher and really learn about all that's out there for the future."
The showcase trailer will return to southeast Arkansas Oct. 19-20 at Stuttgart High School, Oct. 31 at the University of Arkansas at Monticello College of Technology in Crossett, Nov. 1-2 at Crossett High School, Nov. 3-4 at Hamburg High School and Nov. 14-15 at Southeast Arkansas College in Pine Bluff.