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Skills That Pay the Bills

This week I signed into law three bills that form our workforce-training plan. Afterwards, a Little Rock television station ran a story about a fellow named Lawrence Aaron.

A student at Pulaski Tech in North Little Rock, Lawrence is just a few weeks from earning his certificate in welding. Once he does, he’ll be earning twice what he was before.

“I couldn’t max out with nothing more than nine or 10 dollars an hour,” Lawrence told KARK-TV. “I decided that wasn’t enough for me and my family.”

There is a huge shortage of certified welders in this country, especially in our region. The most skilled can make six figures a year and, on average, a certified welder in the United States earns $60,000. According to the American Welding Society, the number of welding jobs will rise 10 percent over the next decade.

The fact is we need more Lawrence Aarons.

It’s not just welding. Aviation technicians are in high demand. Officials at Boeing have predicted that the aerospace industry will need 600,000 maintenance technicians over the next 15 years. Average salary: $55,000 a year.

The jobs are there, and we must match the skills to the jobs.

As Governor, I plan to narrow that skills gap. The plan that I signed Monday plan tackles a big issue that has puzzled both the state and the business community for years and gives it a specific focus — a region-by-region approach to match workforce training with the industries and businesses in that region.

We’ll create partnerships between businesses and high schools, two-year colleges and technical schools so that everybody is on the same page.

And money will flow to the programs that work.

The plan is efficient. It’s targeted. It welds skills with jobs. Lawrence Aaron might appreciate that approach.

Arkansas isn’t alone in facing a skills gap. In a recent column in the Wall Street Journal, Mack McLarty, former head of Arkla and chief of staff to President Clinton, wrote: “Today, we are seeing a growing, pernicious form of segregation: between those who have the knowledge and skills to secure well-paying jobs and those who don’t.”

Over the next decade, millions of good-paying jobs are projected to open across the country in healthcare, engineering, and the automotive and aerospace industries. Skilled technicians are needed everywhere. I’ve talked a lot about the millions of computer-science jobs that go unfilled because companies can’t find qualified employees.

The jobs are there. The want-to is there. Let’s bring the two together.

Arkansas isn’t alone in facing this problem. But we could be a leader, again, in solving it.

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