Rep­re­sen­ta­tives con­vene for work­force sum­mit

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE PEROZEK

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.”

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 buyin 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.

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.

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