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Today’s advanced manufacturing is not your father’s factory job

 October 02, 2018

Arkansas has been a leader in manufacturing for more than half a century, and it is fundamental to the state’s economic diversity and success. Today’s advanced manufacturing businesses mean more jobs, higher pay, a better standard of living, and higher export potential. Arkansas Economic Development Commission is happy to support National Manufacturing Month in October and share information about some programs used in the state to grow the industry and elevate the people in those jobs. Also, a list of events, program and facility tours across Arkansas can be found here: https://www.mfgsolutions.org/mfgday/.

A 2015 study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte found that there exists a growing skills gap between the talent manufacturers need and the talent currently available. According to the report, U.S. manufacturers will need to fill almost 3.5 million jobs. About 2 million of these – more than half – will go unfilled because of the skills gap. A large majority of jobs will be available due to retirements (an estimated 2.7 million jobs) and economic expansions (about 700,000 jobs). Unfortunately, several factors are contributing to the climate including loss of knowledge as workers retire, a negative image of manufacturing among younger generations, lack of STEM and soft skills, and a decline of technical education programs in public schools.

During his inaugural address, Gov. Asa Hutchinson listed four goals for achieving economic stability, all of which point toward making business easier to conduct in Arkansas. These include lowering tax rates, implementing a workforce initiative to improve job skill training for high schools and two-year colleges, offering computer science classes in every high school and introducing middle-school students to careers in technology, and reducing the burden of unreasonable regulations on businesses. All four goals were reached within two years. Now our state needs more skilled workers.

For Arkansas to grow and succeed in the future, we must find and retain talent. About 75 percent of the needed talent in our state falls into three areas: production, mechanical repair, and mechatronics. In short, we need people to build things, fix things, and troubleshoot things.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s Existing Business Resources Division has several initiatives to help manufacturers.

Arkansas has implemented a workforce initiative that includes private-public partnerships with industries, two-year colleges, technical schools and high schools through the ArFuture Grants. This initiative bolsters the state's workforce by covering all tuition and mandatory fees at two-year colleges and technical schools for students pursuing a variety of in-demand fields like computer science and welding. This program will increase access to higher education for Arkansans, while also ensuring that we are creating a talent pool that is specifically tailored to the demands of Arkansas industry.

The Career Readiness Certificate (CRC) matches qualified workers seeking jobs with employers. The certificate lets employers know that the individual has basic place skills in reading for information, applied mathematics, and locating information. Even if a job seeker has a GED, high school diploma or post-secondary degree, the National CRC further verifies that he/she can handle skills required for 21st-century jobs.

The Modern Workplace programs connects educators and industry representatives in an effort to gain familiarity with local products and processes utilized in the workplace, link employers with the local/regional school system to foster ongoing relationships with educators, provide educators with local/regional business context they can use to supplement current teaching curriculum, and familiarize educators with career opportunities in local industry and the skills needed to be successful.

The Arkansas Institute for Performance Excellence provides training and consultation and administers the Governor's Quality Award Program. Any public or privately held organization of any size located in Arkansas may apply.

These are just a few of the programs Arkansas leaders are using to attract and retain the skilled workforce needed to attract businesses and industries to the state.