For too long, we’ve shortchanged a lot of young people with the perception that the only way to success is through a four-year baccalaureate degree.
Millions of jobs across the country provide an opportunity to earn above-average salaries and benefits without a B.S. or B.A. Unfortunately, it’s often a challenge for businesses to find people with the right skills, training or interest.
An estimated 5.6 million jobs – such as construction, manufacturing and trucking– remain unfilled throughout the U.S. today. Arkansas, my home state, accounts for roughly 60,000 openings.
It’s clear that skilled professionals are in great demand. But what isn’t always clear is how to get the message out to young people that these jobs are ones they can be proud to pursue – or that these positions are also viable paths to long-term careers.
This week in Arkansas, we launched a new initiative that will literally drive this notion to students across the state. Through a traveling mobile workshop, “Be Pro Be Proud” will showcase jobs available today and encourage students to consider becoming skilled professionals. Targeting high school students, parents, career coaches and other adults in positions to influence the career choices of young people, the workshop places visitors into these fields, features videos for 12 careers, and incorporates a variety of simulators designed to demystify the tools used in welding, machining, diesel tech, plumbing and electrical management.
“Be Pro Be Proud,” developed and executed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas – in collaboration with state and federal agencies as well as Walmart and several other private entities – is a statewide effort, as skilled professionals are needed everywhere. Northwest Arkansas, for example, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state but a high demand for skilled professionals. The businesses are there, they are in a position to grow, but they need the talent to make it happen.
The shortage of these professionals will become more acute as the existing workforce reaches retirement age in increasing numbers. It’s imperative that we prepare students and current workers for all the opportunities available to them – not only to better their own lives but to accelerate economic performance in Arkansas and across the nation.
There's nothing wrong with pursuing a four-year degree. But, equally important are the paths that don't require one, not to mention lead to higher wages at a lower cost and sometimes at a quicker pace. Through “Be Pro Be Proud,” we will direct young people to the training and resources they need to take themselves down one of many existing and fulfilling paths.