Written by Arkansas Real Estate
When people talk about education they typically talk about elementary schools, high school, and college, but what is commonly overlooked is the need for businesses to have an educated workforce. Northwest Arkansas is known for being the home for Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, JB Hunt, and supplier community that works with them. Often overlooked is the amount of heavy industry and manufacturing that goes on in our area. World leaders like Bekaert, Superior Industries, NanoMech, Preformed Line Products, Daisy, George’s Chicken, and Tyson plants, just to name a few. These businesses have education needs that are being underserved and they are having difficulty finding qualified applicants for their open positions.
This is not just a Northwest Arkansas issue as companies across the industrialized world are facing the same sorts of concerns. One of the biggest components to this problem is the change in the manufacturing process and the sorts of skills needed to work in a manufacturing plant are not the same as they were as recently as the turn of the century. The influx of technologies like robotics and automation into the manufacturing process has shifted the skillset needs for plant workers. While these new skillsets require more training and education for the workers, they also come with high paying jobs. According to recruiter.com, the average robotics engineer in the United States makes over $90,000 per year.
The Northwest Arkansas Council performed 529 Employer Retention and Expansion surveys in 2013 with area businesses. One of the questions was about challenges businesses face in our area, and the top concern for the heavy industries and manufacturers was a lack of skilled labor supply. While this is an important issue, there are those in our area that are working to correct this problem and help create a more skilled labor force for some of our largest area employers.
Northwest Technical Institute is located in Springdale and focuses on training students for work in heavy industry. They offer courses in subjects such as Machine Tooling (manual and automated), Electronics Technologies, and Industrial Maintenance. Their programs are quite successful as 97 percent of their graduates pass their licensing exams.
Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville is a higher education facility that trains workforce in a variety of subjects including professions in the manufacturing community. They offer associate degree programs in fields used in the manufacturing process such as Computer Aided Drafting and Electronics Technologies. They also offer customized workforce development programs to area businesses.
Area high schools are also focusing on this need and offering programs to train a skilled labor right upon graduation. Springdale High School and Rogers Heritage High School offer programs that have seen great success in recent years. Many of the program participants are able to line up employment opportunities for after graduation while still enrolled in the program.
As area businesses have training needs for new hires and expansions there arises the issue of paying for that training. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission offers grant programs for qualifying industries that will cover most, if not all, of the cost associated with bringing in certified trainers or working with higher education facilities for a customized training program.
The workforce needs of companies are a vital issue as they seek to grow and expand their businesses. While the process of manufacturing is ever changing and evolving, the need for a skilled labor supply is important for economic vitality on a regional, national, and worldwide scale. Area businesses have these needs and are rightfully concerned, but it is comforting to know that community leaders and education facilities are aware of this issue and is working on ways to fix the problem.