The other day I told my 16-year-old granddaughter, who’s thinking about what she wants to do after high school, “Go to diesel mechanic school. You’ll never want for a job.” She laughed because she’s not a car gal, but didn’t argue, either, because she knows I’m right (or maybe it's because I’m her grandpa).
If she lived in Arkansas, she might get such advice via a custom-built trailer set up as an instructional classroom. It’s begun traveling under the banner, “Be Pro, Be Proud,” and is part of an initiative to promote vocational education among students, their parents and school counselors.
Among the many job openings the program seeks to fill are truck driving and truck technicians, says its originator, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas (ASCC/AIA).
It set up the program to try to convince kids to aim for training and work in the skilled trades. The group displayed the trailer at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s meeting last week in Nashville, Tenn., and officially announced the program Wednesday.
“Today’s skilled professional workforce is aging out and the next generation of new talent is not sufficient to fill the demand,” the emailed announcement said. “Nationwide, there are an estimated 5.6 million job openings, with approximately 60,000 of these openings here in Arkansas. The majority of these are in high skilled technical fields.
“This gap in our state’s employment can be directly attributed to a lack of knowledge, interest and preparation,” the statement continued. “These jobs make up a vast majority of the manufacturing sector, which represents more than 90% of Arkansas’s exports, and are a cornerstone to the state’s economy. In addition, industries such as construction and trucking are also struggling to find qualified technical professionals.”
The program wants to dispel any myths about skilled trades and manufacturing jobs, like they’re second choices for someone who’s “not college material,” as it’s sometimes put (or was when I was college-age). In fact, those jobs often pay well and sometimes are more secure than white-collar jobs sought by graduates of four-year colleges (as a college graduate, I can testify that that’s absolutely true).
“The reality is that many of these professions today take place in technologically advanced facilities with the latest tools, and there are many opportunities for Arkansas with the right skills to have a successful career with high wages in a skilled trade,” said Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, who spoke at a breakfast during the TMC’s meeting.
“We must make sure our young people know of these opportunities and have access to the appropriate resources and training to succeed in a globally competitive environment. The Be Pro, Be Proud initiative will help in this effort.”
Research conducted prior to the development of this campaign indicates that 82% of companies regularly have positions they are unable to fill with qualified workers. Furthermore, 44% of average, entry-level salaries for these open positions start at or above $31,000 a year.
Among the program’s sponsors is Truck Centers of Arkansas, which is supplying the Freightliner M2 set up as a tractor to pull the special trailer. The Arkansas Trucking Association is another sponsor, along with numerous companies and government agencies.
Be Pro, Be Proud’s mobile unit will travel the state and visit companies, schools and events to showcase skilled trade professions, and broaden awareness of their impact on the state’s workforce, Wednesday’s announcement said. It will provide information about training resources, currently available positions and descriptions, skills needed, and how to start the process of starting a skilled professional career.
“As we are seeing more and more companies come back to America and locate in the Midsouth, our communities must have a skilled and abundant workforce to attract jobs and support businesses as they grow in our region,” said Chris Masingill, federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, another program sponsor.
“This initiative will provide students, families, and community leaders in Arkansas’s Delta region with the information and inspiration to obtain technical skills and career training that meets the needs of businesses and industries to attract good-paying jobs to Delta Communities.”
The initiative’s website, www.BeProBeProud.org, has information on lines of work, training and job opportunities. Employers can use the site to actively engage students, and current skilled trade professionals can become ambassadors and work with students to spur interest. Parents and educators can find facts and materials for encouraging students to learn about potential career opportunities.
Social media channels designed to help keep top-of-mind awareness about the need for skilled professionals will also support the initiative and provide relevant updates during the campaign.
Maybe officials here in Ohio will set up such a program with a training trailer that my granddaughter will see and it will help her decide which road to travel. I hope so.
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