Northwest Arkansas Employers Looking for Skilled Help, Right Workers

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

“Our customers want us to grow with them,” Casey Benincosa said. “At some point you wonder about having the personnel to continue that growth. There is a shortage of people right now that can from start to finish make a part on a CNC machine. What you run into is people with experience machining or people who know programming. We need people that can do both. It’s an undertaking.”

That need is good news for Keith Peterson, VP of instruction at Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale.

Currently, the vocational school has an 80 percent placement rate for students, who are filling skilled labor positions in the region as soon as they graduate from the programs offered. Those areas of study are completed in 11 or 18 months.

Peterson said the school is currently at capacity and, given the resources, could double its enrollment within five years.

“Our industry advisers tell us they’ll have an opening for an administrative assistant and they’ll get 100 people with bachelor’s degrees applying,” Peterson said. “An industrial maintenance tech? They’re having to call around and really work to fill those type jobs.”

Filling the gap between available jobs and available employees will come down to education, Peterson said. It goes beyond training workers to fill those jobs, but opening minds to what “skilled labor” is in the 21st century.

Peterson, Benincosa and Cornelius all said high school students too often see a four-year degree as the only way to make a living. It can be a costly option, one that students are left paying for decades later.

“I’m not sure high schools are getting the message to students,” Cornelius said.

Peterson echoed that thought. Manufacturing jobs in the region pay on average $35,152 a year, according to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services. Training for those jobs at a place like NTI ($3,350) is much more affordable than attending the nearby University of Arkansas ($8,100).

“An industrial maintenance technician can make almost $20,000 more a year than I made in my first teaching job,” Peterson said. “Students aren’t told that very early in their education. They’re not told that blue-collar jobs can be fruitful for them.

“We keep hearing that we’re in need of a trained work force. Well, as a state, let’s make an investment in that.”



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