Arkansas Workforce Strategy report proposes ways to train students for future careers

Brandon Castro (right), a former student of the Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, checks button bits that were produced on a computer numerical control (CNC) machine he is using at Brunner & Lay in Springdale in this June 15, 2023 file photo. Talking about the materials company in the background are (from left) Ken Stuckey, director of Human Resources for Brunner & Lay; Jeremy Drake, the plant's CNC production manager, and Mike Rogers, Arkansas' chief workforce officer, who was tasked in 2023 with working with Arkansas' Workforce Cabinet to develop a report on developing the state's workforce. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
Brandon Castro (right), a former student of the Don Tyson School of Innovation in Springdale, checks button bits that were produced on a computer numerical control (CNC) machine he is using at Brunner & Lay in Springdale in this June 15, 2023 file photo. Talking about the materials company in the background are (from left) Ken Stuckey, director of Human Resources for Brunner & Lay; Jeremy Drake, the plant's CNC production manager, and Mike Rogers, Arkansas' chief workforce officer, who was tasked in 2023 with working with Arkansas' Workforce Cabinet to develop a report on developing the state's workforce. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)


The Arkansas Department of Education, in partnership with the Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services, should lead the alignment of training and career pathways to ensure students learn applicable skills and competencies under one of four recommendations outlined in the Arkansas Workforce Strategy report released Thursday by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

A second recommendation in the report is that the Arkansas Department of Commerce should lead the alignment of business and industry priorities, and a third recommendation is to provide services to meet the needs and goals of job seekers and employers.

A fourth recommendation in the report is to invest in regional strategic focus centers.

Through an executive order issued in February 2023, Sanders established the role of chief workforce officer and the Workforce Cabinet and tasked the group with developing a report that details ways to grow and develop Arkansas' workforce, the governor's office said in a news release.

"Arkansas' economy is booming, but if we don't get workers off the sidelines and prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, we won't reap the full rewards of that growth," Sanders said in the news release. "I tasked Mike Rogers and the Workforce Cabinet with making Arkansas a national leader in workforce development. This workforce strategy will guide us toward that goal and help put every Arkansan on the path to a good-paying, valuable career."

Statewide unemployment ended 2023 the way it began, at 3.4%. Arkansas endured a bumpy pace over the year, with the joblessness rate falling to an all-time low in the summer before rising for five consecutive months to end the year. December's report, released Jan. 23, registered unemployment up from 3.3% in November but still below the U.S. rate of 3.7% recorded in December.

According to the report, the first recommendation includes:

Identifying which skills are most important to Arkansas employers and reward meaningful credentials, such as certificates, diplomas, and degrees, that align with the needs of job seekers, educators, and employers.

Improving the public school accountability system to reward schools for providing real-world skills through high-demand industry certifications.

Effectively marketing non-traditional post-secondary paths.

Realigning the higher education funding formula to enhance the value of providing training that leads to gainful employment.

Under the Arkansas Workforce Strategy report, the recommendation to invest in regional strategic focus centers includes:

Aligning focus centers with Arkansas' market strengths in aerospace and defense, advanced manufacturing, firearm and ammunition manufacturing, energy, forestry, food manufacturing, industrial maintenance that includes refrigeration and boiler systems, lithium mining and battery technology, precision agriculture, semiconductors, and steel manufacturing.

Enhancing programs at existing Career and Technical Education and Secondary Career Centers in broadband, construction, engineering, health care, law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighting, leadership and information technology, retail and entrepreneurship, skilled trades, tourism and outdoor economy, transportation and utilities.

Aligning state and federal resources with the workforce strategy to maximize outcomes and economic development.

The Arkansas Workforce Strategy report's recommendation for the state Commerce Department to lead the alignment of business and industry priorities includes realigning division policies and practices to improve skills to meet employer needs.

The report's recommendation to provide services to meet the needs and goals of job seekers and employers includes creating a statewide workforce portal that allows Arkansans to seek jobs aligned to their skill set; to further their training and education to develop job readiness and real-world skills; to access existing resources, scholarships and grants; and to access a record of their skills and educational background that provides hiring and enrollment insight for employers and institutions of higher education.

The report doesn't include an estimated cost for implementing the recommendations.

"A critical aspect of the Arkansas Workforce Strategy involves establishing mechanisms for funding, resource allocation, and ensuring the sustainability of the strategic initiatives," according to the report.

According to the report, funding and optimization strategies include:

Establishing a task force within the governor's Workforce Cabinet to manage and prioritize workforce-related revenue streams across state government, ensuring effective allocation and use of funds.

Creating a comprehensive inventory of all funding streams in a structured data format, detailing allowable uses to inform optimization models for effective fund allocation.

Launching educational campaigns and workshops to raise awareness and understanding among state departments about bending and braiding funds, adhering to federal and state regulations.

Leveraging the Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services' infrastructure, including advanced analytics and cloud-native applications, to optimize resource utilization and improve service delivery.

Information for this article was contributed by Andrew Moreau of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


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