LITTLE ROCK, Ark.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Arkansas Office of Skills Development (AOSD), a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce responsible for aligning the state’s career and technical education programs with the needs of employers, in partnership with Arkansas Community Colleges today announced initial results from a statewide program that is harnessing the power of virtual and augmented reality for career exploration. Through a partnership with economic development platform TRANSFR, the program has helped hundreds of Arkansas residents gain access to hands-on career exploration virtual reality simulations that offer a real-world look into a variety of fast-growing jobs and industries—with plans to reach up to 4,500 more in 2022.
“Demand for talent is growing in industries like manufacturing, transportation, construction and the skilled trades—professions that can often lead to long-term economic and career stability. However, students often lack awareness of the education or training options they need to get started,” said Cody Waits, director of the Office of Skills Development at the Arkansas Department of Commerce. “This statewide program is an example of how we can pair innovative technologies with our existing career and technical education resources to help more students prepare for new career horizons—and meet the skilled workforce needs of employers.”
At the core of this unique public-private partnership is a career path discovery tool, which enables students and job-seekers to explore a range of jobs in high-growth industries. The new career exploration program features hands-on virtual reality experiences developed by TRANSFR that provide students with an immersive, on-the-job view of a variety of technical roles and industries—including manufacturing, skilled trades, warehousing and storage, hospitality, public safety, and automotive.
The statewide virtual reality program is one example of how state leaders are working toward a set of ambitious economic development goals set by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. In 2021, Gov. Hutchinson announced a new initiative called Ready For Life, which connects job-seekers, educators, and employers at a one-stop employment website that includes job openings and opportunities for continuing education.
To roll out the career exploration program for students and workers statewide, the Arkansas Office of Skills Development has assembled a network of community colleges, career centers, and workforce development agencies across the state—many of them in rural locations and under-resourced communities. Following the career exploration program, Arkansas residents receive information on how they can prepare for careers in the state’s fastest-growing industries at local community colleges and job training programs.
To date, the virtual reality training program has reached more than 205 students throughout the state during its first 6 months and now has plans to serve more than 4,500 students in 2022. Hundreds of students have used the virtual reality simulations to explore career and technical education options at one of 15 sites throughout the state.
Among the employer partners supporting the program is Altec, a manufacturer and service provider that specializes in the manufacture and maintenance of equipment in markets such as electric utility, telecommunications and contracting. As part of the company’s effort to hire an additional 300 technicians across the country, Altec has sponsored the Altec Technician Education Program at Arkansas State University at Beebe. The program uses virtual reality to help students earn a Diesel Technology Certificate and prepare for technician roles within the Altec workforce.
“To address the shortage of skilled talent felt by employers in Arkansas and across the country, the first step is ensuring that students and early career professionals gain exposure to the wide range of skilled occupations that are in demand,” said Kenneth Calhoun, fleet optimization manager for Altec. “This partnership will help more Arkansas residents explore career pathways in the industries in greatest need—and understand the education and training options available to help them take their next professional step.”
The partner organizations working with AOSD, Arkansas Community Colleges and Altec to offer training include economic development agency Northwest Arkansas Council; and Arkansas State University Three Rivers, which trains people impacted by the criminal justice system to prevent recidivism and help those individuals secure employment.
The full list of participating colleges and universities includes: Arkansas Northeastern College; Arkansas State University Beebe; Arkansas State University - Newport; Arkansas State University Mid-South; Arkansas State University - Mountain Home; Arkansas State University Three Rivers; East Arkansas Community College; Black River Technical College; Northwest Arkansas Council; Northwest Technical Institute; Ozarka College; South Arkansas Community College; University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville; University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton and University of Arkansas Fort Smith.
“By working in concert with local K-12 schools, community and technical colleges, workforce boards, and employers, we are building a classroom-to-career pathway in Arkansas that will help more job-seekers start a path to long-term economic security and mobility,” said Bharani Rajakumar, founder and CEO of TRANSFR.
The Arkansas Office of Skills Development and Altec are leaders within a growing community of states, community colleges, and employers including Lockheed Martin, that are now leveraging the power of virtual simulations to boost employee performance, drive retention, and help workers develop hands-on skills required for on-the-job success.
About the Arkansas Office of Skills Development: A division within the Arkansas Department of Commerce, the Arkansas Office of Skills Development (OSD) is responsible for aligning career and technical education programs with the skills needed by business and industry. OSD includes the State Apprenticeship Office, awarding of Workforce Development Grants, and oversight of Secondary Career Education programs around the state.
About Arkansas Community Colleges:
Arkansas Community Colleges (ACC) is a non-profit association representing all comprehensive public community and technical colleges in Arkansas. It was established in 1989 as a professional development association through a grassroots effort of faculty to share ideas, resources, and teaching techniques. Today, ACC members include all 22 of the state’s comprehensive community and technical colleges, with the Board of Directors consisting of the President/Chancellor of each member institution. In the absence of a statewide higher education regulatory authority, the Board coalesces to become a stronger, more unified body for education reform. Together the ACC Board, executive director, and staff are a collective voice to maximize resources and efforts that serve Arkansas students, communities, and business/industry.
TRANSFR is creating a classroom-to-careers pipeline, to train the next generation of workers for well-paying jobs across every industry via immersive hands-on training programs that develop critical skills for employment in well-paying, in-demand jobs.
As an economic development platform, we work together with community organizations, workforce development groups, educational institutions, and industry leaders, to help build better futures for workers, employers, and the communities that they call home. For more information, visit transfrvr.com.