Lawmaker Jane English Helps Spur Workforce Training Reform

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Apr. 7, 2014 12:00 am  

In 2008, she was elected to the Arkansas House, serving District 42 for two terms. She went on to be elected to the state Senate, representing District 34.

English, who is married and the mother of a grown son and daughter, chairs the Joint Performance Review Committee, the State Agencies & Government Affairs – Senate Constitutional Issues Subcommittee and the Veterans’ Home Task Force.

When she was working at the state Department of Economic Development, English said, the only thing that companies considering moving to Arkansas were seeking were low taxes and low wages.

“As time went on,” she said, “what became more evident is that … people were looking for people with greater skills. And we didn’t have a coordinated effort to try and make that happen.

“We talk a lot about education and economic development, but what does that really mean?” English asked. “Nobody can define that. And our focus has sort of always been, ‘We need to send everybody to college.’ Well, that doesn’t work for everybody.”

The state has an abundance of worker education programs, “but they all kind of operate in silos,” English said.

In one silo, she said, is K-12 education, getting billions of dollars. “And we have higher ed over here, and they’ve got football teams and basketball teams and lots of money and lots of lobbyists.

“And then in the middle here are the rest of our citizens,” English said, some of whom may not have even completed high school.

In addition to public education are a variety of job training programs run by the state. Among these are programs operated by AEDC, the Department of Workforce Services, the Department of Career Education, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Correction.

Some of these programs are effective, English said, but coordination is lacking, leading to duplication of services.

Also lacking, she maintains, is state outreach to business and industry, an effort to make them partners in worker education on every level of that education. “We talk a lot about career and technical education in high schools, but I’m not convinced that there is the business input into those career and technical things,” English said.

And, of course, resources are an issue. The programs that work, those that give workers the skills they need to then land a job, should have more money.

 

 

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