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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Richard Montanez, vice president of multicultural marketing at PepsiCo, speaks Thursday at the Northwest Arkansas Workforce Summit presented by the Springdale Chamber of Commerce at the Holiday Inn in Springdale. Montanez, the keynote speaker, was working as a janitor when he came up with the idea for Frito-Lay's best-selling product Flamin' Hot Cheetos. Frito-Lay is a subsidiary of PepsiCo.

SPRINGDALE -- All young people should be made aware of the career opportunities available in the skilled trades, one business representative told the audience Thursday at the Northwest Arkansas Workforce Summit.

"We're not going to fill 60,000 jobs by just going to the vocational kids in school," said Ken Stuckey, director of talent acquisition and workforce development at Pace Industries. "It is way bigger than that. So I'm hoping that this becomes a conversation with every student at school and not just the kids who may be in a vocational track."

Workforce Summit

The Northwest Arkansas Workforce Summit continues today with a Career Exploration Expo. About 600 high school students and representatives of more than 40 companies are expected to attend.

It’s not meant to be a job fair, but it’s a chance for students to learn what the companies do and what career opportunities they offer, according to Bill Rogers, a vice president with the Springdale Chamber of Commerce.

Richard Montanez, Thursday’s keynote speaker, also is scheduled to speak to the students today.

Source: Staff Report

Stuckey was part of a panel convened to discuss the value of internships and providing real work experiences for students.

There are 60,000 unfilled jobs in the state, according to Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, who addressed the summit earlier in the day.

The annual summit, hosted by the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, attracted about 360 people from the region's business and education sectors. The goal of the event is to raise awarness of the need to improve workforce readiness and explore ways to accomplish that, said Bill Rogers, a chamber vice president.

Arkansas' lack of people for skilled trades jobs isn't yet a crisis, but a crisis is "around the bend," Rogers said. Diesel mechanic is one example of a career in which there's a high demand for workers.

"Trucking is a huge economic driver in our state and companies need people who can fix their diesel engines," he said.

Joe Rollins, director of workforce development at the Northwest Arkansas Council, moderated the panel discussion. Business people and several student interns at Northwest Arkansas companies offered input on the impact of student work experiences.

Noah Wehn, a University of Arkansas student and 2017 Har-Ber High School graduate, works part-time for Pace Industries, which does custom aluminum die casting.

"The opportunity to have an internship is so important," Wehn said. "You learn so many soft skills. You learn so many skills by being on the job."

As far as what educators can do to promote workforce readiness, he said his experience working on robotics teams in high schools was invaluable. He learned not only about things such as programming and electrical wiring, but soft skills such as communicating with team members, he said.

Wehn also emphasized the importance of project-based learning for students.

If employers send representatives into high schools to talk to students about opportunities at their businesses, Stuckey suggested they send someone close to the students' age.

"You don't get a lot of buy-in from students at junior high and high school from someone with a lot of gray hair," he said.

He also suggested businesses should work with students to discover what their passion is, then steer them toward a job that's compatible with their interests, rather than try to mold them to fit a certain job.

"That's how we snagged this guy," Stuckey said, referring to Wehn.

Preston, director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission since 2015, said he'd like to see more career coaches in the schools, especially to encourage students to pursue careers that don't require a college degree.

He pointed out while the state's unemployment rate has remained below 4 percent for over two years, Arkansas still has a labor force participation rate of only 57 percent, six percentage points below the national average.

"If we could just get to the national average, that's 50,000 more people participating," Preston said.

Richard Montanez, vice president of multicultural marketing at PepsiCo, gave the keynote address Thursday.

Montanez, who grew up in a migrant labor camp in California and didn't graduate from high school, was working as a janitor at a Frito-Lay plant in the 1970s. That's when he took the bold step of calling the company's chief executive officer about a product idea he had.

He was invited to pitch his idea, which involved adding certain spices to Cheetos. His product would come to be known as Flamin' Hot Cheetos, a popular snack food today. Montanez won over company leaders with his presentation, despite having no formal training in marketing.

"All you need is one revelation," Montanez repeatedly told the audience.

He talked about overcoming feelings of inadequacy to rise from janitor to a top position in a corporation, and urged audience members to follow their own passion.

"You weren't created to fit in. You were created to stand out," he said.

NW News on 11/09/2018

Print Headline: Business and education reps convene for workforce summit

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