Arkansas Chamber Of Commerce & State Partner On Raising Esteem For Skilled Labor

Mar 8, 2016

Arkansas Chamber of Commerce Chair Randy Zook with Gov. Asa Hutchinson sitting behind him.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and state economic officials are rolling out a private-public partnership branded as “Be Pro. Be Proud” designed to entice young people to enter technical fields and become skilled laborers.

At the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock on Tuesday, chamber Chair Randy Zook said learning a trade such as welding or plumbing ought to be considered in the same regard as pursuing a four-year college degree.

“We aim to change the conversation in school classrooms and hallways, at kitchen tables, and on the ball fields about the value and opportunity young adults can realize through technical, professional careers,” said Zook.

The publicity and educational effort will have to overcome a prevailing attitude of devaluing skilled labor that’s been decades in the making, said Zook.

“We each have played a part in downplaying the value of these careers. Not for my child, many say. In America today only one in three parents encourages their children to pursue careers in manufacturing. We have allowed these positions to be cast as ‘middle skill jobs’ and left for those who perhaps have failed at something else. This could not be further from reality,” he said.

The state chamber, Arkansas economic officials, and the federally-backed Delta Regional Authority showcased a tractor-trailer outfitted with interactive displays for 12 different trades. The vehicle will traverse the state and stop to give demonstrations to high school students. It’s part of a larger effort to re-tool the state’s workforce services to coordinate high schools and two-year colleges to meet job vacancies and skills shortages identified by local industry.

It highlights 12 skilled trades: CAD-CAM drafting, carpentry, C&C operations, commercial truck driving, computer programming, diesel technicians, electricians, HVACR techs, machining, plumbing, tool and die, and welding.

Governor Asa Hutchinson lent his presence and support to the “Be Pro. Be Proud” launch event. Speaking to reporters afterward he said the state has already come a long way in addressing business concerns that re-locating to Arkansas could be difficult because the workforce isn’t adequately educated or skilled.

“Without question, we have turned a corner,” said the governor. “We have the training programs in place, we have the partnerships with industry, we have the investments and companies recognize that.”

“I don’t see that as an impediment at all in fact I now see that as an advantage for this state, and obviously, we want to continue to grow in that area.”