College Isn’t the Only Option

Every year, thousands of young Arkansans graduate high school anticipating their future. For some that’s a four-year college or university, but it is not the only route to a successful life and the pursuit of happiness. Arkansas is currently facing a shortage of workers in our skilled labor market, which makes up a majority of the state’s overall workforce, and there are limitless opportunities in skilled workforce, such as skilled-labor training, apprenticeships, or specialized two-year degree programs, that don’t require a traditional four-year degree. 

The North Little Rock School District’s Center of Excellence is preparing its high school students for all kinds of opportunities and career paths. Not only does the Center of Excellence serves as a college preparatory school, it also provides hands-on experience in industrial jobs through courses on advanced manufacturing, health, transportation, and logistics for those students who may be considering entering the workforce right out of high school. This program is forward-thinking for recognizing that not all students learn the same way or have the same interests or talents.

In November 2017, I visited the Center of Excellence with Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, who was as impressed with their program as I was. Chairwoman Foxx and I have worked closely together in Congress to promote workforce training and STEM education.

I’ve been actively engaged on sharing the good work of Arkansas’s proven, unconventional career programs succeeding in the Congressional Skilled American Workforce Caucus, which I Co-Chair with Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-MI).  

Since 2015, our caucus has hosted multiple roundtable discussions, and the Congresswoman Lawrence and I have traveled each other’s congressional districts to meet with local stakeholders about how successful skilled workforce programs and how they can be a model for the rest of the United States. We plan to expand the Caucus’ outreach with other House members and increase the number of skilled workforce site visits in the coming months. As Congress focuses on good policies to increase economic growth, the Caucus continues to play an important role in getting people back to work.

The Conway Area Career Center serves schools in the greater Conway area to fill the gap of providing workforce training skills. The Center is located on the Conway High School campus which is also a terrific success with its strong academic tradition and attentive preparation of students for the next phase in their lives. They offer training in everything from welding, construction tech, and agricultural science to health science, computer engineering, and architectural drafting provides an alternative to traditional secondary schooling by offering professional certification of these high-demand skills. The Career Center also operates an apprenticeship program giving students on-the-job training. This training provides an alternative to traditional secondary schooling by offering professional certification of these high-demand skills.

The Saline County Economic Development Corp. has followed successful schools around the state and nation in proposing the creation of a conceptual school christened as the Saline County Career and Technical Education Center. School and community leaders have joined with industry partners to create a program that would train students in welding and manufacturing, automotive repair, computer engineering and information technology, and health sciences, while ensuring that area businesses have access to a steady stream of eligible and trained workers. The Center, to be located in Benton, would serve students from seven school districts: Bauxite, Benton, Bryant, Fountain Lake, Harmony Grove, Glen Rose, and Sheridan.

It is important for students to recognize not only their opportunities beyond high school, but also the importance of maximizing career-prep opportunities in high school. As leaders, parents, and teachers, we all want the best future for Arkansans, and the option of skilled workforce training programs should be considered for some students a worthy alternative to a traditional four-year degree. If we start educating and preparing students for careers in the skilled trades in high school, we can guarantee strong, successful careers for them and a prosperous and sustainable future for Arkansas.

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