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21st Century Tech Skills (Lance Turner Editor’s Note)

2 min read

A plan is underway in North Little Rock to meet some of Arkansas’ workforce needs, revitalize a neglected part of town and give new life to a historic building.

I’m talking about the partnership among the city, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Agency and Shorter College to open a technology career training center in the old Rock Island Railroad Depot on East Fourth Street.

College President O. Jerome Green, North Little Rock Mayor Terry Hartwick, North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Ashley Hight and EDA Regional Director Jorge Ayala endured a cold Monday afternoon to announce the plan just outside the former train station, which dates to 1913.

The well-preserved building’s fascinating past put it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. That past is rooted in a 19th century railroad economy, but its future will be about providing workers the 21st century technology skills employers increasingly demand.

Through a $1.2 million EDA grant, Shorter College will purchase from the city and renovate the depot, transforming it into a space where anyone — not just Shorter College students — can earn microcredentials offered by IBM and Apple Inc. in various tech skills, including cybersecurity, blockchain and computer programming. Local employers will also be able to send employees to the center for training.

“This is not one of our associate degree programs,” Green told me. “This is career education and executive training, so that people who are not in college but who want to get these skills can come here and get [them].”

You may start to hear more about microcredentials. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, today’s workplace demands almost continuous learning, and such credentials, or badges, make it possible “for learners to accrue discrete bodies of knowledge ­at their own pace — and to continue to do so throughout their careers.”

That’s a good fit for people who know they need to learn new skills but might already be working full time or working and caring for children.

Shorter College has other programs underway that aim to meet local workforce needs. This plan for a technology hub builds on that, but it also strives to make good use of a historic building in need of new life. With the help of the Central Arkansas Planning & Development District, Shorter plans to start project bidding early next month, have construction rolling by summer and get activities underway in the depot in the fall.

Founded in 1886, Shorter College is the only private, two-year HBCU in the country. Recently, it has added on-campus dormitories and announced other partnerships that provide opportunities for students to learn about a variety of professions.

Its reputation as a vital workforce educator is growing — a good thing for employees and employers alike.

Lance Turner is the editor of Arkansas Business.
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