Northwest Arkansas’ K-12 career and technical education should focus more on certain in-demand, high-pay career paths like health care, business management and manufacturing, according to a new study recently published by the Walton Family Foundation.
But a high level of enthusiasm among educators and school districts to improve their CTE programs, plus the existence of partners like CareersNWA, means NWA can seize this opportunity to prepare its students for thriving and impactful careers.
“There is a strong interest and even resurgence in CTE across the region,” said Joe Rollins, workforce development director for the Northwest Arkansas Council, of which CareersNWA is a part. “We have schools coming forward with new programs, implementing internships, participating in industry roundtables and workforce summits. Those are fantastic steps forward.”
NWA schools over the last several years have offered a wide variety of CTE courses that include robotics, welding and other trades. Of the top 10 completed CTE pathways, however, only three are in the sort of high-skill and high-wage jobs that the region will depend on most in the coming years, the study found.
The study’s authors recommended a better alignment of education programs with broader economic trends as well as consistent metrics for students to clear across NWA.
“High-quality CTE programs lead to advancement and increase economic mobility when they align with regional economic needs. They also provide K-12 students with the knowledge, skills and credentials they need for future success,” said Katherine Robinson, Walton Family Foundation program officer. “Developing consistent regional CTE pathways will require cross-sector communication, shared resources, economies of scale and a common understanding of needs from industry leaders.”
CareersNWA was established to help build those bridges with a focus on high-priority industries, such as by holding roundtables for employers and teachers to share needs and resources, facilitating apprenticeships in technology and other fields, and organizing career fairs like Build My Future NWA in April.
Students, educators, job-seekers, employers and others can learn more and get in touch through the CareersNWA homepage.
“What we’re trying to do is really be that intermediary that helps connect people, ideas and information so that they can make the best decisions,” said G.B. Cazes, the Council’s IT workforce specialist.