Today, right now, in every part of Arkansas, opportunities impatiently wait for those ready, willing, and prepared to seize them.
Working at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, I’ve seen that there are literally thousands of unfilled technical jobs in the manufacturing, construction, and transportation industries throughout our state. Employers come to us desperately searching for high-skilled folks with the degrees and certificates required to succeed in these positions. And employers would happily pay anyone qualified for these jobs wages well above what the average Arkansan earns. But job recruiters keep searching, and business owners continue aching to grow, innovate, and take what they’re doing to the next level.
That is why we established Be Pro, Be Proud to lead the movement to bring a new generation of pride, progress, and professionals to Arkansas. We are informing our state’s students about the opportunities available to them and connecting them with employers that are struggling to meet their goals.
One strategy we’re using is our Be Pro Workshop, a mobile experience designed to show Arkansas students what it takes to become machinists, welders, plumbers, and other technical professionals. Students across our state are learning about jobs that demand precision and expertise and provide great financial security. The Be Pro Workshop features a customized, interactive trailer packed with informational materials and challenging career-related activities that we take to companies, schools, and community events.
And Be Pro, Be Proud is working. In fact, I’ve seen students leave the Workforce Workshop ready to learn how they can take advantage of the limitless opportunities our state’s employers have to offer.
Our Be Pro, Be Proud model has attracted attention from other states as well. Earlier this year, South Carolina policymakers reached out to us to find out how we made Be Pro Be Proud happen. After hearing what it took, how we brought employers together to help, and the results we were seeing, they decided to adopt the program back home. In a press conference last April, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster proclaimed, “We must have the workers to do these skilled jobs, and we believe the impediment is that they don’t realize what all is available.”
Gov. McMaster certainly hit the nail on the head. In terms of economic opportunity, certificates and technical degrees outperform many four-year degrees. They cost significantly less, can be obtained in weeks or months–as opposed to years–and, in nearly every case, a motivated and interested student will have a job offering $50,000 or more waiting on her before she completes her coursework. How’s that for job security?
So why has it been so hard for folks to make the right decisions for their future? For too long, technical career options have been referred to as “middle skill” jobs. By definition these jobs “require more education and training than a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree.” Who coined that term? And what student would stand up and say, “YES! When I grow up, I want to have a middle skill job!”? Exactly, not one bright, talented student would sign up for something that perceptually sets the bar so low. Arkansas–like many states–needs more individuals qualified to fill the technically professional positions we’ve mistakenly labeled as “middle skill.” We need to build the workforce our businesses require and cultivate the next generation of entrepreneurs and Arkansas-based success stories.
Be Pro, Be Proud changes how we talk about “middle skill” jobs–more appropriately identified as “technical professions”–so we can set our eyes on what’s possible for our students, our communities, and our state a decade from now.
The vast majority of manufacturers report shortages in workers with valuable technical skills, and nearly half of our skilled professional workforce is 45 or older. In other words, demand is high and supply is plummeting. As a result, wages for technical careers are increasing everywhere to attract talented, interested individuals. Entrepreneurial opportunities exist for anyone willing to create and grow their own businesses using the skills they can hone on the job. The American Dream awaits those with the education, training, and skills to grasp it.
The reality is this: America’s next Industrial Revolution will be crafted by someone with a technical skillset. It’s up to us to make sure Arkansas is at the forefront of what comes next.
To learn more and to see this message in action, come check out beprobeproud.org. We’re changing the perception students, parents and teachers have about technical skills and professions. And turning talent and pride into progress.
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