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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: Job Training for a New Economy


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Among our many programs designed to help Arkansans find steady employment, there is one job-training initiative that has helped employ 1,700 of our citizens over the past two years. In 2010, a grant given to the Department of Workforce Services helped the State create a skills-training system for the green-energy manufacturing sector. The program's ability to match so many people to jobs, especially with a struggling national economy, has been an impressive achievement. In addition to creating new jobs for those who needed them, the Arkansas Energy Sector Partnership demonstrated to the nation that Arkansans can and will respond to the workforce demands of America's 21st-century economy.

The program's goal was to train workers in the specific areas of renewable electric power, energy assessment, and energy-efficient building construction and retrofitting. Arkansans who faced employment challenges were specifically targeted to be trained for this work. Those recruited included job seekers, high-school dropouts, disadvantaged and dislocated workers, and individuals living in counties notably affected by the auto-industry crisis. This $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor also sought out former offenders who had re-paid their debt to society and were looking to become productive workers. They often have the toughest time of all finding steady employment as they re-enter society.

Twenty of Arkansas's community colleges developed curriculum to help participants develop expert skills to last beyond the life of the program. Their on-the-job and classroom training was in areas as diverse as plumbing, geothermal apprenticeship, solar heat, residential piping, and wind-powered generators. Additionally, seven new ongoing apprenticeship programs were created to prepare workers for the green industry jobs that will continue to expand. With green industries a growing part of the job market, we are helping secure new careers for those who need jobs and bolstering the state's economy at the same time. Thanks to Winrock International, people who obtain these jobs will have access to support services, including child care and transportation.

The grant program established nine performance goals to measure how well the State used this taxpayer money. Nine months remain to produce results, and already, Arkansas has vastly exceeded all but one of those goals. So far, more than 2,400 Arkansans have either completed apprenticeships or received certificates or degrees through the program. More than 1,700 of those people are now working because of this apprenticeship-training opportunity.

As I've always said, education and economic development are forever connected in our State. By identifying the needs of Arkansas employers and then training a workforce to meet those needs, we enhance our State's stability and prosperity. These newly trained electricians; welders; plumbers and pipefitters; HVAC installers; painters; and sheet metal workers are now earning a living and paying their share of taxes. By integrating green technologies and other new innovations into our job-creation efforts, we achieve the same goal that has always been part of the American tradition: offering our people a chance for prosperity.

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