The newly constituted Arkansas Workforce Development Board held its first meeting Tuesday to begin building a long-term plan to re-align public education, skills training and industry needs.
The AWDB was created as part of a larger overhaul of the state’s workforce services passed in the Arkansas Legislature’s 2014 regular session.
Governor Asa Hutchinson told the 21 member board, all of which he appointed, that their work will “make it possible to go the Legislature” in the future to ask for workforce development funds and changes. An excerpt from the agenda details part of the understood mission of the board.
“The AWDB’s goal is to assist and advise the Governor through recommendation of policies and strategies to increase coordination and thus efficiencies of operation between all workforce development programs.”
Some decisions, such as how the state will re-organize 10 local development areas, will be made in two years.
“We’ve made the decision to stick with the 10 that we’ve had because we’re in a time of transition. We need more time to study and re-align the regions. It’s all based upon regional influence on what are the job opportunities and what are the job skills that are needed in that particular region. We’ve got time to work on that part of it,” said Hutchinson.
Hutchinson highlighted in his remarks that building partnerships between high schools, two-year colleges, technical schools, and local companies is a central focus. The governor used Conway as an example where workforce services could be better coordinated. Hutchinson said that while Conway has three colleges (Hendrix College, University of Central Arkansas, and Central Baptist College) high school students would have travel to Morrilton to receive tech or vocational training.
The Republican governor contended after his remarks to the AWDB that the industry-driven approach will lead to the most dynamic job growth.
“They’re looking out after their self-interest for one thing, that is we need welders or we need carpenters or some other enhanced skill in robotics. They should be able to direct it.” Hutchinson said he doesn’t think recommendations from established industries will lead to undiversified economic development in some regions, “You’re also always going to have a new opportunity on the horizon. Just like Lockheed Martin, if they are able to win the contract and come to south Arkansas, we’ve designated over $1 million in specific training through the community college.”
Lockheed Martin has an existing Arkansas presence outside of Camden. The Legislature recently approved an $87 million bond package to support the company’s bid for a federal military contract.
A drawing of term length, staggered by one, two, three, and four years was among the initial steps such as adopting bylaws. Arkansas Economic Development Commissioner Mike Preston drew three years, Education Commissioner Johnny Key will serve three, and AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes will be on the board for one year