Colleges, businesses in the region align to meet the need for skilled talent
A key driver in the economic success of Western Arkansas is a a workforce that is both readily available and highly skilled.
A roster of higher education institutions in the region equips students with the exact skills employers, new and existing, require. Institutions such as the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, the two-year University of Arkansas-Rich Mountain and Arkansas Tech University, offer a broad menu of degree and certificate programs that serve both traditional students and working adults.
Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus, a two-year satellite campus of Arkansas Tech University (ATU) in Franklin County, offers stackable degrees making it possible for students to obtain credentials ranging from a certificate of proficiency or technical certificate to an associate, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, all from one institution. The university also operates a career center in Russellville that offers online learning and courses via satellite.
The university works closely with industry leaders to ensure the curriculum remains current and reflects the skills needs of businesses in the region.
“Maintaining strong connections with the industry leaders in the region is a top priority,â€ says Sam Strasner, director of university relations.
Those partnerships have led to the recent development of programs in disciplines such as logistics management and automation technology. The partnerships also assist in job placement for ATU-Ozark graduates, Strasner says, “because employers know that these individuals will be trained and ready to get the job done.â€
Likewise, the University of Arkansas-Rich Mountain updates its technical programs annually to stay in line with local employment trends.
Local employers serve on college advisory boards to ensure that technical programs offered by the college are training students with job-ready work skills. School officials work with the local workforce development office and the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District to remain current with employer needs.
Medical billing and coding, nursing and welding programs have experienced growing enrollment, which officials attribute to students being hired immediately upon graduation by local employers.
Students who enroll in the CNC machining program are being hired prior to completing the educational program since their skills are so much in demand by industry, says Krystal Thrailkill, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the university.
The region’s universities also work to begin workforce development efforts even before students are old enough to enroll.
Arkansas Tech University partnered with local industry leader Tyson Foods to open the $1.3 million Tyson Foods Logan County Career Center on the Paris High School campus. The center allows ATU-Ozark to provide courses in automation technology and allied health to both high school students and adult learners.
“The facility, which celebrated its grand opening in January 2018, is in step with [Arkansas] Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s call for educational entities in the state to create more opportunities for workforce education,â€ Strasner says. “The center in Paris, like every academic facility operated by ATU, is about access. Learners ranging from high school age to those seeking re-training later in life will all be beneficiaries of having a facility the caliber of the Tyson Foods Logan County Career Center within driving distance of their homes.â€