The mobile workshop aims to arouse students’ interest in qualified professions

JESSIEVILLE — The “Be Pro Be Proud” mobile workshop from Arkansas arrived in Garland County Monday, where it visited the Jessieville High School campus before spending Tuesday and Wednesday at Hot Springs World Class High School.

Housed in a 910-square-foot semi-trailer truck, the workshop features interactive workstations that engage students in skilled careers such as construction, trucking, welding, plumbing, manufacturing, and other industry-specific skills.

Announced by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas in early 2016, the Be Pro Be Proud workforce initiative was created to fill the growing skills gap.

“This is a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to have the Be Pro Be Proud professionals come out here and be able to speak with Jessieville students from Grades 8 through 12,” said Chuck Ragsdale, career coach for National Park College Jessieville School District. said on Monday.

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“The staff, the administration, everyone on board here basically opened up their schedules today so their students and even their teachers can come here to see what the Be Proud Be Pro movement is all about. The students really liked it and you can see that spark. That’s the whole intention behind this program, is to spread the spark and the education out there,” he said.

Tour manager Montrell Thornton said since the initiative started in central Arkansas seven years ago, it has grown to include other states such as Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. He’s gaining momentum from the ongoing excitement around the need and the opportunity, and expects it to expand to half the country before 2030.

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“Our motive, our goal, is to train students in all trades that exist,” he said. “We call it the mobile workshop truck and trailer, and in it too…we have multiple simulators for each station from each sponsor that train students in all trades.”

Thornton described the skilled workforce as the “backbone of this country”.

“No one can do anything without us. And I don’t know what happened in this country, but along the way we kind of forgot about it. Everything around us – the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, the streets, the buildings, the facilities…even the boys with four-year colleges. You look at Harvard, Yale, the (University of Arkansas) – all these colleges were built by us, and when we finish building, we wait too. So there’s a huge need for us,” he said.

Many skilled jobs fall into a recession-proof part of the job market, he said.

“COVID has really put us in the spotlight and that’s why we’ve grown so quickly and gained some momentum. Because in this country we’ve finally found that there’s a small part of us that wants to do these things,” he said.

Referring to the gap, he said that many skilled professionals want to retire and there needs to be another generation to improve and maintain the country’s infrastructure. Ragsdale noted that studies show that by 2030, the national landscape “will go to people with these skill-based jobs.”

“Yeah, we’re still going to need the teachers and the doctors and the lawyers with those college degrees, but we also need people who know how to do plumbing, electrical, truck driving, HVAC… We’ve got to have those vital skills to do.” basically keeping this country going,” he said.

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Currently, students seem to show a particular interest in welding and plumbing trades. He said when he shows them the opportunities and revenue potential that are available, it piques their interest.

“They see this, and they understand that, and — no pun intended — but that sparks, and they care,” he said.

Be Pro Be Proud Tour Manager Montrell Thornton (right) Monday discusses the mobile workshop truck, seen in the background as Chuck Ragsdale, National Park College career coach for the Jessieville School District, looks on. – Photo by Donald Cross from The Sentinel-Record