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$1.4M Grant Awarded for 2nd ‘Be Pro Be Proud’ Mobile Workshop

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Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced a $1.45 million grant to fund construction of a second mobile workshop for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce’s “Be Pro Be Proud” workforce development initiative.

Officials said a second mobile workshop is needed because of the popularity of the first. There’s a two-year waitlist for schools that have requested a visit from the touring semi-truck, which hauls an expandable 78-foot trailer with interactive work stations.

The stations use augmented reality, virtual reality and full-immersion technology to put visitors in the shoes of truck drivers, diesel techs, locomotive engineers, welders, machinists and other skilled trade professionals.

The workshop has visited more than 250 cities as part of a broader initiative aimed at encouraging Arkansans to consider technical training by providing information about training resources, available positions and required skills.

The first mobile workshop was replaced with an updated version in 2019. The new mobile workshop will be a duplicate. It’s expected to hit the road this fall. 

Hutchinson has credited the tour, which began in 2016, with helping to improve Arkansas’ graduation rates and increasing apprenticeships in the state. There were 83 apprentice programs with about 3,500 students in the state when the tour started. That has grown to 125 programs with more than 7,500 students. 

During that time, the career outlook for many students has also improved, according to Chamber President & CEO Randy Zook. He said that more than 90% of teachers surveyed after the mobile workshop visited their school reported that students were more informed and more engaged. And more than 80% said the experience persuaded at least one at-risk student to stay in school.

“The connection to students, schools and communities is beginning to be felt in a very real way,” Zook said.

Patrick Bruce, an Academy Coach and Perkins Coordinator at the North Little Rock School District, has seen that effect firsthand. He said “Be Pro Be Proud” has helped students understand their options after graduation, whether or not they’re headed to college. It also helps businesses connect with potential employees.

“If a student can understand why they need to learn science, why they need to learn math, and how they can apply that right here in Arkansas after graduation, we can have a more robust economy,” Bruce said.

The grant is being administered through the state Office of Skills Development, a division of the Department of Commerce. It adds to $2.2 million in funds the state has already provided for the tour.

Operational funds for the tour will come from “Be Pro Be Proud” member companies and its 55 partner associations, including the Arkansas Trucking Association and the Arkansas Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America. More than $3 million in private funds have been contributed to “Be Pro Be Proud” since the initiative began.

The initiative has caught the attention of other states as companies look to address labor shortages in an increasingly competitive job market. North Carolina and Tennessee are set to launch “Be Pro Be Proud” programs soon, according to Zook. South Carolina and Georgia joined the network in 2020. 

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