The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas on Thursday unveiled its second-generation “Be Pro Be Proud” mobile workshop, which will begin touring thanks to sponsorships that include $200,000 from Union Pacific Railroad.
The 78-foot mobile unit contains 13 interactive stations that use augmented reality, virtual reality and full-immersion technology to put visitors in the shoes of truck drivers, diesel techs, locomotive engineers, welders, machinists, computer numerical control (CNC) operators, HVAC workers and other skilled trade professionals.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson and U.S. Sen. John Boozman were among the dignitaries on hand at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock to mark the latest iteration of the program, which began in 2016.
“Be Pro Be Proud,” which also launched a new website Thursday, aims to encourage Arkansans to consider technical training by providing information about training resources, available positions and required skills.
Scott Moore, senior vice president and chief administrative office for Union Pacific, said workforce development is part of Union Pacific’s Community Ties program.
“We’re looking for regional partners that have some innovative things that really produce workers that we hope work for UP,” Moore told Arkansas Business. “And this particular project really spoke to us, because it goes all across Arkansas, including our many UP communities in Arkansas, teaches some of those trade skills, [and] gives kids exposure to those trade skills. So that’s why it made perfect sense to us.”
While the company trains new hires, it requires them to have basic skills when they apply for jobs. Moore said the “Be Pro Be Proud” program can point them to those resources.
“There’s a lot of physical work there, but in the end a lot is about technology, making sure the track is safe, the track bed is safe, the tie is safe, to make sure that the product can be delivered on time,” Moore said of Union Pacific’s jobs. “It’s all that transitory work that is really captured by ‘Be Pro Be Proud.’ Work is ever changing.”
Also in attendance Thursday were Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell and Rachel Pitre, consumer special publications publisher at Arkansas Business Publishing Group of Little Rock, which also publishes Arkansas Business.
“We need to understand, fundamentally, that not everybody is going to go to college. Not everybody is going to get a four-year degree, and they need to see options that they can have and that have meaning, dignity and honor, and that they can provide for a family,” the governor said. “... Whenever we see this success and the greatness of the need, if we can get this right, then our future is secure. We want to get this right for our young people, and ‘Be Pro Be Proud’ is a key part of getting it right.”
Hutchinson said the state will continue to invest in the program and has established career education centers for interested students to find out more after the mobile unit leaves their communities.
Boozman praised “Be Pro Be Proud,” and pointed out that support for programs like it is bipartisan.
“In order for us to go forward, in order for us to create new jobs, we have to have the workforce to sustain that,” he said. Government, he added, can’t create jobs but can create “a situation where the economy can grow and thrive.”
Scott thanked the program’s sponsors on behalf of the city.
“We have many individuals that are between this sweet spot of 18 to 24, that are looking for a new career, a new aspect in life,” he said. “And, many times, it’s about exposure. And that’s what you’re going to receive from this particular project.”
Pitre unveiled the second annual issue of Arkansas Next Pros magazine, which highlights young people in technical careers.
She said her company was searching for a way to be involved in the “Be Pro Be Proud” effort. So she and ABPG President and Owner Mitch Bettis met with Chamber President and CEO Randy Zook and Andrew Parker, director of governmental affairs for the chamber, in 2017 to get a status update on the program.
“What really resonated with me was the way that Randy lit up when he was telling stories about young professionals that were thriving in these careers, as industrial maintenance techs, diesel technicians, electricians and welders,” she said. “... That’s really when it clicked for me. That’s how we could plug in. We tell stories, and these stories needed to be told.”
The first issue of the new magazine was distributed to every eighth-, 11th- and 12th-grader in the state, Pitre said, adding that positive feedback on it had been “tremendous.”
Zook said the first “Be Pro Be Proud” mobile unit traveled nearly 100,000 miles, made more than 450 stops in 250 cities across the state, and hosted more than 60,000 students visitors.
Other groups providing financial support for the new mobile unit were Ritter Communications, the DRA, Arkansas Department of Career Education, AGC Arkansas, Altec, the Arkansas Trucking Association, Cooper Tires, Doggett Freightliner, Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Freightliner Trucks, Haas Automation Inc., Maxion Wheels, Nabholz Construction Services, Pace Industries, Pike Corp., Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), Tyson Foods Inc. and Welsco Inc.