Future Fit, an innovative pilot program launched by the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, will begin its second class today, Jan. 27, with a full enrollment of 20 students.
In partnership with 10 companies in western Arkansas, UAFS and the AEDC built the customized training program to meet the urgent employment needs of regional industry while preparing unemployed and underemployed citizens for high-skill, high-paying careers in Arkansas. Through work with these companies, Future Fit identified vital job roles that graduates could enter immediately upon completing the program.
The Future Fit program is free to the enrolled attendees, who will attend training three hours a night for three nights a week. Between the hands-on learning hours and online completion, the program will total 96 hours of training. The evening and online hybrid structure of the course is especially helpful to adults who often have numerous commitments beyond the classroom.
“The program is designed to accommodate a wide range of students,” explained Kendall Ross, director of the UAFS Center for Business and Professional Development (CBPD). “A significant portion of these students are in crisis for a variety of reasons that previously prevented their employment. The combination of technical and safety training, along with the soft skills of workplace behavior and ethics, proves invaluable to themselves and their future employers.” Students in the program may have aged out of the foster care program, struggled with unemployment or housing insecurity, transitioned out of the justice system or faced any number of situations that led to underemployment.
With a more than $60,000 of training equipment contributed by the AEDC, the university hopes to enroll progressively more students as the pilot program continues.
“Classes include safety, leadership and communication, mathematics, thinking skills, technology, basic blueprint reading and machine operations in addition to interpersonal social skills and personal qualities,” said Ross. “The support from the commission has been monumental in helping these students as well as the manufacturers who have critical employment needs.”
According to the AEDC, a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute showed that nationally 80 percent of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled production positions.
“The Future Fit program is a direct effort to help Arkansas manufacturers continue to grow and employ a skilled workforce. A job in the manufacturing industry is one of the most stable and secure jobs,” reads the AEDC’s Future Fit website.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of workers in manufacturing jobs is 9.1 years - the highest of all private-sector industries. Further, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the average manufacturing worker in the United States earns $81,289.
The first class of Future Fit at UAFS consisted of nine students ranging in age from 19-63, six of whom had already secured jobs before completing the program.
“It was standing room only at their graduation,” shared Dr. Kim Gordon, professor of leadership and management in the CBPD. “We’re restoring hope. We’re giving people second chances. That’s what the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is about.”
To enroll for the next class, which will begin in April, interested applicants may contact Linda Blair at firstname.lastname@example.org or 479-788-7743. All applicants should have a high school diploma or a GED, a valid email address and have earned a bronze level ACT National Career Readiness Certificate to enroll.