This week, two events in my schedule overlapped in a way that we didn’t plan but presented me the opportunity to emphasize the importance of job skill training centers in Arkansas.
On Wednesday, I was in Springdale to announce that the state is allocating one million dollars over two years to the Northwest Technical Institute, a two-year technical school in Springdale. The money is to cover one-third of the cost for Northwest Technical Institute to expand its training program in ammonia refrigeration, industrial maintenance, and boiler operation.
Ammonia refrigeration is a high-demand occupation in Northwest Arkansas and across the state, where many companies use large-scale refrigeration systems. NWTI is expanding its program after Tyson executives asked the school for help to address its shortage of certified technicians to handle the work in their plants.
Tyson was having to send its employees out of state to train because we did not have the capacity in Arkansas to train enough technicians in the maintenance and repair of ammonia refrigerators.
A shortage of qualified employees isn’t limited to the poultry industry. Leaders in other industries have sought help in finding welders, HVAC technicians, diesel-engine mechanics and other occupations that require certification or a license. Our technical training centers and our high schools across Arkansas are helping to fill that gap.
The technical training is an essential opportunity in our education system. College may not be the best option for everyone. At technical centers, high school graduates and even students still in high school can learn a trade. A high school student may be ready to test and go to work as soon as he or she graduates.
When I took office, 54 school districts didn’t have a technical training center. When school opens this fall, the number of unserved districts will be down to 17.
My trip to NWTI to announce the assistance for ammonia refrigeration had been on the schedule for a long time.
The overlapping event I mentioned came as an unexpected invitation from President Trump to join him at the White House on Tuesday. The president was going to sign a bill that allocates money to states to support technical-education programs, such as the ones at NWTI.
In the private ceremony, the president signed a bill reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which increases access to high-quality Career Technical Education (CTE) programs.
So two days in a row, in ceremonies in Washington and in Springdale, I had the unplanned privilege of participating in two ceremonies that gave me back-to-back opportunities to deliver the message that technical and job skill training is necessary to build a skilled workforce across our nation.
Ammonia refrigeration, by the way, is different than cooling systems that use Freon. Ammonia is more efficient and cools faster, but it is less stable and requires careful handling. Not just any refrigerator expert can work on an ammonia system, which partly explains why the industry has come up short on technicians.
But private industry has partnered with the state, and next summer, a class of newly certified technicians will show up to fill the jobs.