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I wonder how many high-school-age students and their parents noticed the other day when studies listed our state's high-demand occupations that didn't require a four-year college degree.

Sponsored by the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, dual surveys discovered that, by 2020, nearly half of all positions will require mid-level skills rather than a four-year college degree.

Those results came as no surprise to this holder of a B.A. in journalism from the University of Central Arkansas who for two years afterwards scrimped to settle his student debt.

It's no secret the need for trained, qualified employees in the trades and service industries already is dire. I believe those who can fashion industry's necessary machinery, and repair heating and air conditioning systems, computers, vehicles, plumbing and even our bodies will continue to be in far higher demand than liberal arts college majors.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not the least resistant to earning degrees in higher education. For many, choosing that path toward maturity and awareness can certainly lead into rewarding careers. Yet I am more practical than ever when it comes to earning a living wage to support one's lifestyle, family plans and hopes for the future.

I also know the work-force training program headed by Joe Berry at the two-year North Arkansas College in Harrison has been increasingly popular and growing each year as similar programs (such as Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale) and other work-force education and training facilities across the state have been.

So the Springdale Chamber studies in association with consulting firm Economic Leadership simply confirmed what others have been saying for years. The state and our nation badly need employees with "middle level skills."

The list of high-demand jobs includes sales focused on wholesale trade, computer tech support and truck drivers. Also needed are electricians, nurses and various medical technicians. Berry said nursing students can earn a registered nursing degree in a two-year program at Northark, and in even less time become a licensed practical nurse.

I've always viewed a career as a registered nurse as personally fulfilling and financially attractive with undeniable job security for an initial two-year investment. I also believe those who so nobly provide care for our sick and dying rightly remain among society's most respected contributors.

Dental assistants, home and health aides, diesel and automotive technicians, HVAC technicians and industrial maintenance positions round out only some opportunities for careers outside ballyhooed four-year degrees. For many Arkansans, jobs in these fields can get a young person (and others) into the work force at decent wages with very little if any student debt.

Ted Abernathy, managing partner of Economic Leadership, explained in an informative news account by reporter Laurinda Joenks that wholesale trade sales and diesel technicians are two of the most in-demand jobs. However, decent-paying and potential career jobs are available in all trades.

Perry Webb, president of the Springdale Chamber, said the demand has increased because so many workers have retired (or soon will) and not as many younger people are entering these fields. Annual openings for skilled employees far exceed the capacity to properly train all these needed employees.

Abernathy called the situation nothing less than a talent crisis, adding that society needs to reform work-force training and education because the mid-skilled employment needs today far outweigh our state's ability to fill them.

Earlier training also fails to fill evolving demands for today's jobs. For example, he said, diesel mechanics once needed little more than wrenches, while diesel technicians now also must have computer skills.

Jobs which often offer attractive salaries, especially for skilled workers who can earn $40,000 annually and more with added training and experience, should appeal to many young people in each of these potential careers. (I paid a reliable and capable handyman $30 an hour for home repairs last month.)

But before these needs can be met, society must shed outdated stigmas too often associated with less-than-glamorous employment opportunities.

Abernathy suggested introducing mid-skill jobs during a student's high school years and including training programs with apprenticeships and internships as part of the high school's curriculum. He also said companies can benefit from retraining existing employees to learn fresh skills necessary to keep up with the inevitable technological changes.

In his report, Joenks' story said, Abernathy recommends the private sector make contributions to the capacity to effectively train prospective employees, and increase work experience and training for high schoolers. Companies in need of workers should become involved with state legislators to create badly needed programs. Some, such as Tyson Foods, already are.

Food for thought this morning.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 03/12/2019

Print Headline: MIKE MASTERSON: Jobs aplenty

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