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Guest writer: Apprenticeships support industry, employees

College, businesses partner for high-demand training

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If you have needed a plumber to fix a burst pipe or a skilled technician to get your heat pump back online, you already know a little about the value of apprenticeships. This week, we're observing National Apprenticeship Week in Arkansas and throughout the nation. It's a celebration that offers leaders in business, labor, education, and other critical partners a chance to express their support for apprenticeships.

At NorthWest Arkansas Community College, we support apprenticeships with words and actions as we partner with others to provide important workforce training for individuals entering critical skilled trades.

An apprenticeship makes good economic sense for both the employer and the apprentice. According to Department of Labor statistics, workers who complete apprenticeship programs earn $300,000 more over a career than their peers who don't. Another statistic shows for every dollar spent on apprenticeship, employers get approximately $1.50 in return on investment.

Arkansas has 104 registered apprenticeship programs, involving hundreds of employers and approximately 5,000 registered apprentices, according to a National Apprenticeship Week proclamation issued by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Your community college is among those organizations providing registered apprenticeship programs. The college is part of the network that supports apprenticeships in such high-demand fields as heating/ventilation/air conditioning, plumbing, electrical and, more recently, ironworks. We believe NWACC's work in providing technical training in these trades dovetails with the community college's mission of empowering lives, inspiring learning and strengthening our community through accessible, affordable, quality education.

Apprenticeships also represent another tangible part of the college's efforts to address the specific needs of our region. Construction is booming in Northwest Arkansas. During the first half of 2017, the number of residential building permits issued rose almost 10 percent over the same period in 2016, according to data in the Skyline Report from the University of Arkansas and Arvest Bank. To keep up with that growth, it's critical that our region has people skilled in trades and well versed in the technical underpinnings that keep our homes, offices and businesses operating efficiently, safely and comfortably.

Our college's commitment to address those needs is evident on most weekday evenings. The parking lot outside the Shewmaker Center for Workforce Technologies is filled with vans and trucks from local businesses -- HVAC operations, plumbers and electrical service businesses.

Like the region it serves, NWACC's building sciences programs are growing, and growing quickly. The college started 2015 with 145 students in the three apprenticeship programs -- electrical, plumbing and HVAC. At the start of the fall semester 2017, apprenticeship numbers were at 207, according to Keith Peterson, the college's dean of workforce development.

Tom Hunt, executive director of the Arkansas HVACR Association, told us that Michael Dewberry, coordinator of building sciences, and the college are charting new territory in NWACC's apprenticeship program for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Hunt said the approximately 60 individuals enrolled is a testimony to the strength of the program's connection to the needs of the community.

It's always good to hear such comments from people in the industry. We also enjoy hearing the success stories of individual students. A few months ago, Michael Dewberry told me about a female student who went through the college's HVAC program. She later established her own business and started hiring new employees. She sent them to the program she knew best -- at the community college.

NWACC is an accredited training and education facility of the National Center for Construction Education & Research. The National Center provides curriculum and students earn a credential they can carry with them wherever they go.

In the relationship with National Center, new curriculum modules being rolled out this year will have increased emphasis on business management and business ethics. Every year the students are in the apprenticeship program, that business component will be embedded in their studies. In addition to learning skills of the trade such as plumbing, the apprentice also will be gaining the business chops to be able to lead his or her own operation someday. The college also is working with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education to establish a technical certificate in the trades that will emphasize business know-how.

We believe the community college is all about preparing people for their future -- whether it's providing the education for a career, transferring to a four-year university or learning trades that will remain a critical component of our region's growth. We are pleased to be a part of the bigger picture of providing apprenticeship instruction that connects skilled workers with good jobs and makes the American workforce more competitive. During National Apprenticeship Week or any week, that's cause for celebration.

Commentary on 11/13/2017

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