In it together: Meeting local workforce needs

Photo: Arkansas State University-Mountain Home

Partnerships are a vital aspect of succeeding as a community college, and Arkansas State University-Mountain Home (ASUMH) has succeeded in making the most out of those connections with the community. With an enrollment of around 1,300 annually, every dollar counts, and every partnership is critical.  

In 2014, ASUMH worked with local industry advisors to identify workforce gaps in north central Arkansas. Those industry partners helped pinpoint four critical training needs — HVAC, automotive systems repair, welding and mechatronics — and vowed to help ASUMH develop programs and facilities to provide that training.

That fall, the college began offering those four programs. Baxter International — which has a plastics and medical device manufacturing plant in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and employs approximately 1,000 people — dedicated equipment. Baxter also received a grant for $1 million to help expand a state-of-the-art mechatronics lab. 

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

“Baxter International’s support gave us the dollars and equipment we needed to start a new program critical to our area,” said Karen Heslep, dean of business and technology at ASUMH. “They saw value in a strong partnership with the college and dedicated their resources to helping us develop a new technical campus, which would, in turn, help them upscale their employees.” 

A second grant allowed the college to create an apprenticeship program for Baxter International’s employees, which provided an opportunity for nearly 70 employees to receive promotions and pay increases at the lab. 

A model for other fields

That model has been duplicated in the health professions field, too. A partnership with Baxter Health, the local hospital and largest employer in Baxter County, was critical to the growth of programs in health sciences at the community college. The partnership included expanding offerings into the local high schools, and the hospital’s foundation created incentives for employees to attend ASUMH. It provided scholarships and stipends that made it easier for current and future employees to get the training they need to get ahead.

The college also recently joined with local marine manufacturers in the area to create the first marine manufacturing degree program and training models in the state — and maybe the nation. 

With some of the boating industry’s top sporting boat builders in the area, boatbuilding is a massive part of the local economy, with around 2,000 jobs in the region. An innovative new curriculum and another grant to expand the technical education facility by nearly 7,000 square feet have put ASUMH on the map for marine manufacturing in an area where boats are built by hand and generations of families have been involved in the industry.

Partners in all aspects

ASUMH Chancellor Bentley Wallace has watched workforce programs become a focus for Arkansas and across the nation.

“Workforce development and economic development are inextricably linked,” Wallace said. “If we are going to be successful in expanding the economy of our region and raising per capita income levels of our residents, we will have to be extremely good at leveraging the education-to-earnings pipeline. Employers must be involved in all facets of their prospective employees’ educational journey.”

That includes recruiting for technical programs, paid internships and well-paying careers that sustain families. 

“The relationship between employers and academic programs is more important than ever,” he said.

About the Author

Christy Keirn
Christy Keirn is associate vice chancellor for marketing and community relations at Arkansas State University-Mountain Home.
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