Representatives of Be Pro Be Proud, a nonprofit workforce initiative of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, will be visiting South Arkansas Community College later this month to introduce students to potential opportunities in skilled labor jobs.
Austin Slater, communications director for the nonprofit, said 15 different professions will be demonstrated to students during the Be Pro Be Proud event scheduled for 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. August 23.
"Be Pro Be Proud tours the state of Arkansas showcasing the 15 careers," Slater said in an email to the News-Times. "We make roughly 50 tour stops throughout the state each semester."
The skilled professions that will be demonstrated to SouthArk students include computer programming, CAD/CAM drafting, commercial truck driving, heavy equipment operation, tool and die making, plumbing, CNC (computer numerically controlled) operation, construction and welding as well as careers as linemen, automation and robotics technicians, machinists, electricians, HVAC technicians, diesel technicians and fiber optics technicians.
Slater said the jobs are demonstrated to students throughout the state using interactive virtual reality simulations.
"Be Pro Be Proud exists to change the perceptions of these jobs in technical professions by providing students, teachers and parents more information about them. These are jobs that are high-tech and high-skill and Arkansans need to understand that," Slater said.
He noted that 23% of the state's skilled workforce is at or near retirement age, and said there is not a trained workforce currently available to fill those roles; the problem is statewide, even affecting El Dorado and Union County despite SouthArk leading the charge in providing workforce development and training in a number of fields, including at its Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.
"One of the things we keep hearing from industries is that their workforce is getting older and there doesn't seem to be any interest from younger people to fill those jobs," Brandon Barnette, economic development project manager for the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce, told the News-Times earlier this year.
Be Pro Be Proud has two goals, Slater said: one, to change the public's perception of the professions they promote, and two, to ensure students know about all of the opportunities available to them when they start planning for their careers.
"These jobs pay well, offer great quality of life and are limitless as far as advancement is concerned. Students going through our program can go from high school student to apprentice or working on their certification to accepting a position with a company without having to take out student loans and will begin with a salary that is above the state average," Slater said. "That leads to our second goal of placing students in positions in technical areas. ... We want to help students, teachers and parents to have all of the resources needed to make that decision for themselves."
Locally, SouthArk offers programs in automotive diagnostics, maintenance and service technology; culinary arts; industrial technology; process technology; welding technology; advanced pipe welding; metal inert gas (MIG) welding; shielded metal arc welding; tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding; and welding layout and pipefitting.
The college also partners with local industries to provide continuing education and apprenticeship programs.
Slater said that Be Pro Be Proud has also partnered with South Carolina and Georgia with good results, and the nonprofit is working to launch initiatives in two other states next year.
Be Pro Be Proud is funded through various state agencies and has a "large private partner collection," Slater said.
"We work with everyone from the Department of Education and the Office of Skills Development to companies such as Union Pacific and Lanxess," he said.
According to a press release about this month's event, SouthArk students will be able to utilize the "Be Pro Mobile Workshop," which uses augmented reality to immerse a person in the daily life of a skilled professional.
"Be Pro Be Proud believes that working to replenish the declining workforce in manufacturing, utility, transportation and construction industries will enhance the economic prosperity and opportunity in Arkansas," the press release says.
For more information, visit beprobeproud.org.