The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce held a portion of its “Arkansas’s Workforce” session of Leadership Arkansas at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith Oct. 26, a recognition of the university’s statewide innovations in workforce development.
During the event, members of the leadership class were able to hear about the university’s numerous workforce development initiatives – from the Regional Workforce Grants to the Western Arkansas Technical Center, as well as the university’s new strategic direction to become a national model for workforce training.
It was this innovative approach to workforce development, as well as the city of Fort Smith’s strong manufacturing industry, that led to the chamber deciding to hold the workforce session in the city, according to Andrew Parker, director of governmental relations at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
After taking over Leadership Arkansas in 2015, Parker began to redesign the program. During this time, he was introduced to Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, who gave him a tour of campus.
“I was incredibly impressed with the work that he was doing. The Baldor Technology Center brings together a lot of what companies tell us they need,” Parker said. “The Western Arkansas Technical Center program for high school students and just the energy that Ken and UAFS brought to the conversation really stood out.”
Over the years, UAFS has established itself as a state and regional innovator in workforce development through numerous programs that respond to workforce needs. It was the first university in Arkansas to begin offering courses in robot automation and will begin offering courses in unmanned aircraft technology, a field poised for rapid growth, next fall.
Its Regional Workforce Grants program, implemented following a $2 million grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, has provided on-site concurrent credit courses in robot automation and data analytics to students in area high schools to educate students in fields that are in desperate need of skilled workers.
Additionally, the university boasts an 85 percent job and graduate school placement rate among its graduates.
“When we were stepping into the workforce conversation in a significant way, UAFS always rose to the top,” Parker continued. “As we think about the state and what’s going on and the places that are doing it right, Fort Smith always finds itself at the top of the list when it comes to coordinated workforce development efforts that work.”
The day on campus included presentations from officials at ArcBest Corp., Rheem Manufacturing and Baldor Electric Company before the group traveled to Baldor for afternoon sessions and a tour of the facility. The following day, the group assembled at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce for the conclusion of the session.
Jordan Hale, director of government and community relations at UAFS, said the visit was affirmation of the university’s workforce development efforts.
“Workforce education is at the core of our mission as a university,” Hale said. “Hosting groups like Leadership Arkansas provides an opportunity for UAFS to engage state leaders in an effort to continue meeting the region’s workforce needs of today and the future.”
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally. To find out what makes UAFS just right for you, go to www.uafs.edu.