KASU

Statewide Initiative Combats Skills Gap Issue in the Workforce

Mar 17, 2016

Meet Scott Calloway:

“I went to the University of Georgia.  I was a marketing major, and it's funny because as soon as I got out of school there was no job for me.”

Calloway’s story is similar to many students who graduated from a four-year-institution.  After graduating from high school, he went to a four-year institution to get his degree in marketing.  He said he felt like he had to go there in order to become successful out of peer pressure. 

Let me be very clear about something, we are not rebuilding the economy in this country on the backs of Sociology majors, and I'm a Sociology major.

  When he graduated from college, he found it difficult to find a job in his field.  While looking for something in his field, he ended up finding work very close to his home.

“I actually went into business with my dad which was a company that used trucking, welding, tree surgeons and I actually went into a 'trade-sort-of-job'," Calloway said.  

At 39 years old now, he's using his marketing degree and the skills he learned with his Dad's company to be a tour manager for the "Be Arkansas Pro" interactive mobile workshop. 

The mobile workshop is an 18-wheeler truck outfitted with simulations and games designed to change young Arkansans’ perceptions on skilled professional trades.

One simulation in particular was the "Pluming Pathways" game, in which students compete against each other for a prize to fit pipes together.  That game represents the pluming career path.

Plumbing Pathways game on the "Be Arkansas Pro" mobile workshop. This contest gives students a chance to experience the career of a Plumber.
Credit Brandon Tabor

The truck is a part of the “Be Pro Be Proud” initiative. The $2.5 million initiative was launched in early March in Little Rock by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Delta Regional Authority, Governor Asa Hutchison, other state economic departments, and businesses. 

Chamber CEO Randy Zook and Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill were in Jonesboro Monday to kick of the first regional tour of the initiative at a ceremony at the Arkansas State University Newport campus.

Zook said the perception students have about choosing college or learning a trade has created what he calls a “skills gap” in the workforce.

Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Zook addressing the visitors at the first regional tour of the mobile workshop at ASU-Newport Jonesboro campus.
Credit Brandon Tabor

  “There are nearly 6 million open jobs in the U.S. today, and about half of those require some sort of technical or career training and preparation for them and there are simply not enough people ready to do these good jobs so the jobs go begging," Zook said.  

"People are looking for jobs, but they don't have the skills  to do the jobs that are available. Companies are looking for people, but they can't find the people with the skills they need."

Zook gives his thoughts on why the “skills gap” exists:

“Well, I think we’ve been selling kids on that idea for a long time," he explains.  "We've been making it seem like an 'either/or' proposition--either you go to college and succeed or you don't go to college and you fail--that’s just not an accurate picture.”

Masingill saw initiative as a means to tackle the “skills gap” issue which he says is an issue that is being underestimated:

“For decades we've undervalued career and technical training," Masingill said. "Let me be very clear about something, we are not rebuilding the economy in this country on the backs of Sociology majors, and I'm a Sociology major."

Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority Chris Masingill
Credit Brandon Tabor

  Masingill echoed Zook's belief that students can choose to receive technical training and peruse a four year degree.  

"This is about life long learning," Masingill said.  "This about career pathways.  This is about recognizing you can be successful in other ways without graduating--nececcarily, our traditional track--with debt and no job.”

ASU-N Jonesboro campus Chancellor Dr. Sandra Massey and Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Young also offered their support for the initiative at the ceremony.

Massey said that having programs to teach the necessary technical training is not enough to close the skills gap.

“Also critical is a robust pipeline that Mr. Zook referred to from Kindergarten to employment," Massey said, "and then one that loops back occasionally into the Higher-Ed arena for updated skills training creating a much needed culture of lifelong learning.” 

Jonesboro campus of ASU-Newport Chancellor Dr. Sandra Massey
Credit Brandon Tabor

  Zook said the stop in Jonesboro was the first of four regional trips during its 2 year tour.  He said they plan to make stops in Bentonville, Fort Smith, and El Dorado.

While the schedule is still under development, Calloway expressed his excitement about presenting this information to students:

“My personal goal, when this is over, is that every kid that I talk to has a completely different perspective on their future and what these professions actually can provide them monetarily; opportunity wise," Calloway said.  "I'm passionate about this because it provides hope.  They need hope.”

More information on the “Be Pro Be Proud” initiative and where the “Be Arkansas Pro” mobile workshop will be next is available at BeProBeProud.org.