Reforming the state’s workforce education system is the single most-important issue in economic development, Chris Masingill, director of the Delta Regional Authority, said Wednesday at a DRA-sponsored summit that brought together leaders of the business community, educators and officeholders at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff for a wide-ranging, daylong discussion of how Arkansas trains its workers.
Arkansas must seize the opportunity while it exists, Masingill said. “We’ve got 10 years to capture re-shoring, right-shoring” of jobs that were moved overseas, he said. In order to do so, he said, “We need fundamental, holistic change in our system.”
The summit, one of eight state-specific meetings conducted in the Mississippi River Delta states, used Re-imagining Workforce Development, a report produced in 2013 by the Southern Growth Policies Board, and updated in July and August of this year.
Report co-author Linda Hoke of Durham, N.C., told attendees that “the rate of change has accelerated in the world,” and therefore education must adapt to meet the needs.
States should promote alternative partnerships in education and business must play a key role in designing the education and training needed to fill current and future jobs and success “requires a system approach,” she said.
To be competitive in the global environment, the report said the Delta region must re-imagine workforce preparation in three key areas: re-imagining readiness, re-engaging adult learners and disconnected youth, and re-aligning relationships and resources. Key actions for re-imagining readiness include strengthening the connection between education and job skills, re-thinking credentials and their value in the workplace and giving students more exposure to the world of work.
More than two-thirds of the workforce in 2020 and nearly half of the workforce in 2030 are already working today, while at the same time, more than one in seven young people age 18-24 are neither working nor in school, the report noted.
In order to re-engage both adults and youths in the education system to update their skills to meet the need for a trained and educated workforce in the future, the system should target workers with some credits with no degree or credential, help dislocated workers rejoin the workforce and recover disconnected youth, DRA said.
The Delta must better align education, workforce and economic development assets to create clear pathways and smooth transitions to facilitate lifelong learning, according to the report. Key actions in that regard include creating continuity in education and workforce development from early childhood through career paths; aligning and tracking data across the educational and workforce pipeline; and engaging business in a meaningful way.
And, Hoke said, there should be a “fourth R” along with the three Rs of re-imagine, re-engage and realign. That fourth R, she said is “Ramp up.” Rather than seek more innovation, “we need to scale them up. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”
How Arkansas reforms its workforce education efforts “will define … the shape of the Arkansas economy for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Randy Zook, president of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas. “We’re spending plenty of money. We’ve just got to spend it in the right way.”
The daylong conference where the updated report was revealed also included gubernatorial candidates, Republican Asa Hutchinson and Democrat Mike Ross. Both candidates touted their jobs and workforce education platforms.