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Training Arkansas’s Workforce

In 1967, Baldor Electric moved its headquarters from St. Louis, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Not long after that, a student at Westark Community College named John McFarland went to work for the company.

McFarland eventually rose to president and CEO of Baldor, and during his 41 years with the company, sales grew from $20 million to $1.9 billion.

Today, Westark is part of the University of Arkansas system and known as UA Fort Smith. It’s home to the John McFarland and Baldor Scholarship for Technology and Applied Sciences and the Baldor Technology Center.

John McFarland’s story is a very American one. Through hard work and skill, he climbed the economic and corporate ladder. His story is also a perfect example of what Arkansans can accomplish when the right training programs combine with the right opportunity. We need more John McFarland stories in Arkansas.

On Tuesday, I announced my plan to strengthen job skill training in this state. I also describe four fundamental keys to accomplishing this goal:

First, business and industry by region of the state should guide the training programs.

Second, we must develop and encourage partnerships between our two-year colleges, our technical colleges, our businesses and high schools.

Third, the funding should follow these priorities.

And, lastly, state government agencies should be organized around these principles.

This isn’t a new idea. In fact, we already have successful examples of these workforce-training partnerships in place around the state.

UA Fort Smith continues to show the way. Through its Western Arkansas Technical Center, high school juniors and seniors receive hands-on training in technical fields and earn college credits.

The result is a ready workforce — for nearby Baldor and other companies with similar needs.

In Paris, Arkansas, the school district has partnered with Arkansas Tech University of Ozark and businesses like Cloyes Gear and Stark Manufacturing to provide training that meets the needs of local employers. The school district turned a vacant downtown building — known as the “Old Pants Factory” — into a satellite training center, where students take courses that prepare them for manufacturing jobs or work in the medical field.

It’s a win-win scenario. The students win, the businesses win, and the community wins. And, an old building gets a productive new life.

These training programs make sense. According to a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute, 83 percent of businesses that rely on skilled production don’t have enough qualified workers.

The jobs are there. Let’s help Arkansans who want them, get them.  Soon enough, we’ll be hearing more and more John McFarland success stories.

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