Closing the Skills Gap in Industrial Technology in Jonesboro, Arkansas
Since 1976, Northeast Arkansas Career & Tech Center (NEACTC) has enriched the education of 10th through 12th grade students in the Jonesboro, AR area. NEACTC is a high school-based career and technology center that is just a hallway away from the Jonesboro High School. Students throughout the district come to take classes at NEACTC and build the critical skillsets needed in jobs that are currently in demand.
The technical center is one of the oldest in the state and has been the highest attended school for secondary education in the state for four years in a row. While the school’s largest program is its medical science program with 180,000 attending, the school has recently been focusing on its latest industrial technology program. With the advancement in technology for industries across the board, the emphasis on machine operation and technology has become critical.
High-Demand Jobs Are Not Being Filled
For decades, there has been a stigma regarding vocational education. People saw career and technology (CTE) programs as an educational path to a career with lower wages and limited job opportunities as opposed to a career stemming from a four-year college education. However, with the rise in technology, this is no longer the case.
The growth of these jobs is on the rise, providing millions of Americans with high-paying jobs and opportunities. High school students who enroll in CTE programs can earn a four-year college credit that will further advance them in their studies. Additionally, CTE programs also allow students who choose not to attend a four-year college to have a successful career after high school.
The Skills Gap Has Affected Employment
Technology and automation have significantly changed the needs of several career industries, including manufacturing, welding, HVAC, and several more. With the implementation of new technology and the change in skills and safety requirements, the careers that were once assumed to be less extensive now require refined skills and intensive training.
According to the Manufacturing Institute, the current skills gap in the U.S. may leave an estimated 2.4 million job positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028. The learning programs and skill-building curriculum that CTE programs provide are designed to close the skills gap and provide people with job opportunities that are in demand.
“For so long, people have been looking for something exciting to study,” NEACTC Director Eddie Crain said. “We have more people from the industry retiring and we are not replacing them.”
With the help of the state and local industrial companies in Arkansas, Sivad, and many other, NEACTC’s Industrial Technology (IT) program began.
NEACTC’s Industrial Technology Program
The two-year program grew out of the needs of the companies in Arkansas. Industrial representatives from the state met with the school administrators to discuss where the skills gap was in the industry. The industrial representatives helped outline the important skillsets needed to be included in the curriculum so that students could meet the high-demand position requirements in industrial maintenance.
With their guidance, the program was designed to best equip students with the training and technology skills needed to fill the jobs in the industry. The IT program currently allows students to earn and receive certifications in Fanuc Robot, NCCER Core, and NCCER Industrial Maintenance.
Sivad Inc. Helped with the Technology and Equipment Needed for the Program
Students in the program study OSHA and Behavioral Safety, Industrial 4.0, Lean Manufacturing, and Quality Control Systems. Additionally, they use electrical and mechanical modules to have more hands-on experience with the equipment used in the career field. To have the best equipment in the industry, the IT program asked Sivad for assistance in 2015.
“We had a great partner in Sivad because when I reached out to our rep, he was very responsive,” Crain remarked.
Sivad helped install and set up the learning systems and equipment that worked best with the space. Additionally, we provided learning equipment and programs that best fit the industry and curriculum goals. The relationship between Sivad and NEACTC continues today, with Sivad providing them with the equipment and solutions they need to meet industry standards and training requirements.
Rebranding the Industrial Technology Program
Although the program now had top-tier instructors and the latest technology thanks to Sivad, the program was still lacking excitement and needed an improved name to spark interest in the students. To strike a balance between the students’ demand for exciting career paths and the jobs that local and state industries needed filled, the IT program decided to rebrand.
In 2017, NEACTC’s IT program was rebranded to Robotics and Automation Technology. The rebrand was an effort to better recruit students to the program with a more specific name that represented what the program had to offer.
Tours Still Remain Important for Recruitment
The rebranding did help increase student interest in the program, which brought balance to student interest and employment needs. However, tours of the CTE center is still a critical recruitment tool to show parents, students, and advisors what the programs are about. Seeing the technology and capabilities that the program has to offer changes students’ preconceived thoughts of CTE programs.
Programmable Logic Controllers, an Amatrol Hydraulic Maintenance Learning System, and a Fanuc instructional robot are just some of the hands-on learning equipment that people can expect to see when they tour the Robotics and Automation facility.
NEACTC and Its Robotics & Automation Program Continues to Grow
The interest in the programs offered at NEACTC has grown over the years, and they have made adjustments to best serve their students. The CTE center added an early morning shift to its original mid-morning and afternoon shift schedule to accommodate students in other extracurricular activities, including athletes, choir students, and AP-enrolled students.
The name rebrand was a success for the program’s recruitment efforts and expectations of what the program involved. Enrollment also continues to increase every year in the robotics and automation technology program. More students are receiving the training and education needed to fill the high-demand jobs in the state and local industries in an industry that is exciting to younger generations.
The program plans to add a full-operation conveyer system in the near future to better enhance the students’ education experience. The capstone course will soon involve programming and controlling conveyor systems that are used in the current industry, which will further advance the program to new heights.