A key to the Central Arkansas region’s economic growth is the ability for businesses to tap into a deep and diverse pool of highly skilled workers.
The region’s robust network of higher education institutions includes two campuses of the University of Arkansas system, University of Central Arkansas, a number of technical and community colleges, and several highly regarded private colleges and universities. Those institutions work to connect graduates with high-demand jobs and ensure the pipeline of talent continues to flow to growing industries.
The Career Services Center at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway, for example, develops and maintains relationships with employers in the region to assess their workforce needs and ensure the university is equipping students with the skills they necessary to meet those demands.
“We work with alumni in the region to update students on workforce skills needed,” says Christina Madsen, associate vice president for communications, public relations and marketing for UCA. “The Career Services Center also plans and executes career development events to place students in the workforce. We collect student and employer evaluations across the region.”
The Career Services Center hosts several career fairs each academic year that bring regional and national employers to campus to discuss career options and inform students of the skills that are in high demand in the current job market. Throughout the year, employers participate in the Career Services’ Trio program which matches them with more than 150 classes during which they talk about internship opportunities and current job trends.
“We also host the Career Links Program that partners with regional nonprofit businesses each year to coordinate internship opportunities with a variety of departments around campus, as well as the outreach program each summer during which Career Services staff visits local businesses to educate them on how to recruit students and how to reach them with employment opportunities,” she says.
With an enrollment of more than 11,000 students, UCA offers 85 undergraduate, 33 master’s and seven doctoral programs. The university also works with local schools to offer dual enrollment college-level courses that offer high school students a head start toward a college degree or career.
“We work closely with the UCA Upward Bound program to provide career assessments and work shadow training during the summer months,” Madsen says. “Career Services is a partner with the Community of Economic Development office that provides information and training to students participating in the Conway Cradle Care program. We also partner with First Security Bank to provide training materials to conduct mock interviews at the Conway High School.”
Along with UCA, the region’s network of community and technical colleges works with local schools to introduce students at an earlier age to local career pathways.
The University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College offers dual-enrollment courses and associate’s degree and certificate programs in such high-growth areas as allied health and education, business and information technology and technical sciences. The college also partners with a number of the region’s public four-year universities, including UCA and University of Arkansas-Little Rock, as well as private institutions, such as Harding University, for a seamless transfer of credits.
STEM-ulating the Workforce
Harding is one of a number of highly regarded private four-year colleges and universities in the region. Others include Webster University and Philander Smith College, both in Little Rock, and Hendrix College in Conway.
Hendrix College plays a significant role in the transfer of talent to local businesses, particularly those in STEM-related industries. About one-third of Hendrix graduates are from Central Arkansas, and about the same number of graduates establish their careers in the region.
Hendrix was recently awarded National Science Foundation funding to recruit and train future scientists for the region as a part of the S-STEM program. As a part of the grant process, several Central Arkansas STEM-related companies provided letters of support as partners in hiring and providing internships for the science majors.
“In the classroom, Hendrix College prepares minds to question the status quo and bring to life new ideas," says Leigh Lassiter-Counts, interim director of career services for Hendrix College. "With innovative programs like Odyssey and Career Term, and through the Office of Career Services, Hendrix uses real-world experiences like research, internships and professional skill development to encourage innovative ‘thinkers’ to become ‘doers.’”
Like other colleges and universities in the area, Hendrix is also involved in community outreach. Programs such as the Robotics Summer Odyssey Day Camp for area middle school girls inspire local students to explore STEM-related careers.
“Hendrix also offers more general early exposure to higher education by hosting elementary schools for special visits," Lassiter-Counts says. “In addition, Hendrix students can be found out in the community, demonstrating chemistry experiments, serving as foreign language tutors at local schools, and volunteering as ‘buddies’ to students in Conway throughout the academic year.”