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Governor Signs Workforce Development Bills Aligning Education & Industry Needs

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signing a workforce development bill.
Jacob Kauffman

Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a trio of bills into law on Monday intended to overhaul the state’s workforce development plan. The governor said tailoring education toward filling needs identified by business interests is a “dramatic” and “foundational” change.

“Let me just emphasize what as I see as the model that we are establishing. One, we are establishing the role of industry and business leaders in setting priorities. Secondly, we are making sure there’s a partnership between high schools, two-year colleges and technical colleges, and job force training,” Hutchinson said.

“Thirdly, the money is going to flow to those programs that work. That is the critical element to make sure this is successful.”

Among the bills signed by Hutchinson is a measure to organize 10 regional boards or councils compromised of industry leaders such as the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce.

“We need the partnership of the chamber to promote these opportunities with our young people. I see that as a huge part of what we will need to do…incorporating their leadership into our work,” said Hutchinson.

Recently-confirmed Education Commissioner Johnny Key was among those in the governor’s entourage. Speaking after the governor’s remarks Key said directing K-12 education to meet localized job prospects doesn’t mean students in certain areas of the state will be pushed away from a four-year college route.

“There are going to be students in all regions whose desire is going to be to pursue a college degree, either liberal arts or a technical degree, and we don’t see this as diverting that at all. It’s not an ‘either-or’ it’s an ‘and,'" said Key.

“There are going to be students there that want to stay there so they’re going to want to be in tune with the workforce needs of that area so they can make a living and stay home." Key continued, "others are going to be ready to get out in the world and we have to prepare for both scenarios.”

The governor said he will be personally involved in workforce reforms. 

“It will be led by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, which I will chair, that will drive this everyday to make sure we can meet those performance measures to make sure that we can be successful and lead the South in job skill training,” said Hutchinson.

Commissioner Key envisioned how it might play-out on the ground level.

“What we want to do is help the counselors in our district see what the other avenues are, not just the counselors but the teachers and administrators, that there’s not a one-track anymore for students,” said Key. “It’s not an opportunity in one field or another, it’s a diversity of opportunity.”

At the bill signing Hutchinson did not identify any representatives of workers or organized labor as potential members of regional boards or the governor’s workforce cabinet.

The three bills signed by Hutchinson - SB891, SB 368, and SB 791 - easily passed through the Legislature before recessing at the end of last week. Between the three pieces of legislation only one opposition vote was cast during floor sessions.

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