The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith, in partnership with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, is currently accepting applications for the innovative employment program Future Fit, which aims to meet the region’s urgent employment needs while preparing unemployed and underemployed citizens for high-skill, high-paying careers.
The Future Fit program is free to participants, and applications are open until July 20. The first cohort of Future Fit launched in the fall of 2019 at UAFS and was initially designed with 12 weeks of courses offered 3 hours a night, three days a week. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Arkansas just as the second cohort of Future Fit students were nearing completion of the program. “We quickly moved our program online, and students were able to complete the program virtually,” explained Kendall Ross, director of the UAFS Center for Business and Professional Development (CBPD).
“A significant portion of our students are in crisis for a variety of reasons, and the pandemic has only added to our region’s employment needs,” continued Ross. “So many Arkansans are now out of work due to COVID-19, and the ability to prepare them for well-paying, stable, ‘recession-proof’ jobs is incredibly important. The combination of technical and safety training, along with the soft skills of workplace behavior and ethics, proves invaluable to both students and their future employers.”
In addition to moving much of the program online, the Future Fit program is also being offered on a shorter timeline, getting participants into their new careers more quickly. The first three weeks of training will be conducted online, with a learning coach from the university helping students and ensuring their progress. The online portion of the training includes Math, Safety, Critical Thinking, Blueprint Reading, Collaboration, Work Ethic, and Interpersonal Skills. Likewise, some Machine Operations simulation work will be done online.
After the online portion of the class, students will enter the laboratory for hands-on learning with more than $60,000 of training equipment contributed by the Arkansas Office of Skills Development (OSD). “The support from the OSD and AEDC has been monumental in helping our students and the manufacturers who have critical employment needs.”
According to the AEDC, a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute showed that nationally 80 percent of manufacturers report a moderate or severe shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled production positions.
“The Future Fit program is a direct effort to help Arkansas manufacturers continue to grow and employ a skilled workforce. A job in the manufacturing industry is one of the most stable and secure jobs,” reads the AEDC’s Future Fit website.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of workers in manufacturing jobs is 9.1 years – the highest of all private-sector industries. Further, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the average manufacturing worker in the United States earns $81,289.
The first class of Future Fit at UAFS consisted of nine students ranging in age from 19-63, six of whom had already secured jobs before completing the program.
“It was standing room only at their graduation,” shared Dr. Kim Gordon, professor of leadership and management in the CBPD. “We’re restoring hope. We’re giving people second chances. That’s what the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is about.”
To enroll for the next class, which will begin August 3, interested applicants may contact Linda Blair at [email protected] or 479-788-7743. All applicants should have a high school diploma or a GED, computer, reliable internet and have earned a bronze level ACT National Career Readiness Certificate to enroll.