Going back to school might be the answer
By Larry Burge
With unemployment at its highest reported rate since 1992, job seekers might look at enhancing job skills to improve job chances. Recent reports verify that with the economic recession and companies downsizing their work force, job seekers with limited education have a more difficult time finding permanent work. One reason could be that companies have more applicants with higher education and the most educated workers are hired.
A May 6, 2009, Arkansas Department of Education ACT report showed “high school students who plan to enter workforce-training programs after they graduate need academic skills similar to those used by students planning to enter college.”
The report’s findings suggested that higher-level math and reading skills for 90 percent of entry-level workforce positions are comparable to those needed before high school graduates enter their first year of college. Educated workers usually earn better wages. And in today’s job market, employers need more skilled workers than ever before, with many secretarial jobs requiring at a minimum a college degree.
“Today’s demand for unskilled workers has dropped from 60 percent in 1950 to less than 15 percent today, as the demand for skilled workers rose from 20 percent to 65 percent,” said John Davidson, Arkansas Department of Workforce Education deputy director.
These reports leave little doubt that the education requirement bar for job seekers is on the rise, but what about laid-off workers or those trying to advance? What is available in Arkansas for them?
Three groups classify Arkansas workers, Davidson said. Individuals with high school diplomas or GEDs classify as unskilled workers. Those with associate degrees or technical certificates are skilled workers, and professionals have at least a bachelor and often a master or doctoral degree.
Davidson said the bottom line is that without at least a high school diploma and preferably a year’s advanced schooling, workers are finding it hard to find jobs that will allow them to earn enough money to meet their daily needs and necessities, let alone provide family needs and have job advancement potential.
Adults who are considering returning to school, however, see hurtles to jump, ladders to climb and roadblocks placed in their way. But any Arkansas resident with a desire to learn has a few advancement opportunities that they can they take advantage of.
In 2005, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee titled the state education resources “Go Back, Move Forward,” according to the Workforce Education Web site. In his forward to the program planning guide, Huckabee said, “The title says it all: Sometimes we have to go back to move forward.”
Under the watch of the former governor, Arkansas joined with 10 other states in its Pathways to Advance Project. Under the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, the project developed strategic goals and policies to assist working adults to earn postsecondary education credentials by several means.
The Fayetteville Adult Education Center serves adult learners by providing free adult basic education classes, said center director Kathy Spigarelli.
These basic classes include general adult education, literacy and English as a second language classes to prepare adults to take the state GED test. In addition, centers across the state provide job readiness programs to help those qualified to obtain a job, retain a job or improve their skills level to gain improved employment.
Paying for an education can be a roadblock for some, but most programs have ways to help post-high school degree recipients pay for higher education.
The state offers scholarships to a variety of schools as do federal aid programs. Arkansas Workforce Education lists more than 56 programs at vocational and technical schools and all Arkansas state colleges and universities have student aid packages and assistance information available for those who ask.
Traditional institutions across Arkansas include opportunities at more than 30 public colleges and universities. A variety of higher education programs across the state serve veterans, people wanting to change careers, offer professional development classes, provide business and industry apprenticeships for youth and adults and workforce assistance for people with disabilities through traditional as well as nontraditional educational programs.
Here are some resources to help find educational opportunities in Arkansas from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Education.
Arkansas Adult Learning Resource Center: http://www.aalrc.org/home/aboutUs.aspx
Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy:
Arkansas Technical Careers:
Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale: http://www.nti.tec.ar.us/
Veterans Training Programs:
Secondary Career and Technical Education:
Professional Development Classes:
Career and Technical Education Student Organizations
Arkansas Rehabilitation Services
Business and Industry Apprenticeship and Applied Sciences:
Youth Apprenticeship Programs:
Link to Arkansas Colleges and Universities: