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View from the Senate: New Workforce Plan to Reduce Duplication of Programs

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Job training and workforce education are offered by numerous government entities in Arkansas. That’s part of the problem.

Overlap and duplication create confusion for people who want to improve their job skills, and they are inefficient uses of tax dollars.

With that in mind, legislators approved Act 1079 earlier this year, to bring all career education and workforce training into one system. They will be under a board known as the Career Education and Workforce Development Board, whose members will be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

They will represent the agriculture, construction, energy, health care, information technology, manufacturing, financial services, hospitality, transportation and rehabilitative services industries. One of their primary duties will be to eliminate the duplication of efforts that now exists.

The preamble to Act 1079 notes that “significant inefficiencies” exist in job training efforts due to duplication. It may seem counterintuitive, but the overlaps and duplication also create gaps in course offerings, resulting from “important programs being overlooked as presumably covered by another program.”

The new Board is charged with bringing “consistency, efficiency, and rigor” to job training programs, and with ensuring that they measure up to industry standards.

Lawmakers enacted another new law this year to provide industry with more influence in job training. Act 55 changes the composition of the state 12-member Higher Education Coordinating Board, increasing from six to nine the number of members who shall be selected from business, industry, education, agriculturally related industry, and medical services, and who shall not be current members of a board of a public two-year college or four-year university.

Act 944 of 2019 is meant to increase the availability of job training courses offered by two-year colleges. It allows colleges to market themselves, offer courses and provider services to anyone in the state, regardless of the service area in which the person lives.

About 22 percent of Arkansas adults have earned a bachelor’s degree. About 31 percent have an associate’s degree or have attended college but not earned a bachelor’s.

For a person with a high school diploma, the most in-demand job is food preparation and serving of food. The second is retail sales. 

The most in-demand job for people with an associate’s degree is driving a tractor-trailer or heavy truck, and the second is nursing assistant. 

Of the jobs available to people with a bachelor’s degree, the most in-demand job is as a registered nurse. The second is general operations management.

One reason for the number and variety of job training programs is that there are numerous paths to employment. Some people enlist in the military, and then look for a job after their discharge. Some go straight into the job market from high school, while others take technical classes in college. 

Some people learn job skills at adult education centers. Several agencies send instructors to local industries for people who already have jobs and who want to improve their skills. Some people enter the workforce through apprenticeship programs.

Others take job training and adult education courses that are required in order to receive Medicaid, food stamps or welfare. Some people have physical or learning disabilities, and get jobs after completing occupational therapy.

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