The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith (UAFS) partnered with ABB, Cary, N.C., to introduce the first youth apprenticeship program for advanced manufacturing in Arkansas. The collaborative program was officially launched on May 3 at the Fort Smith Area Chamber of Commerce Signing Day when nine students from six local high schools officially joined ABB as apprentices, the organizations said.

At the May event, 31 students from UAFS and regional high schools publicly committed to apprenticeships at Fort Smith business, including ABB, ArcBest, Baptist-Fort Smith, Mercy-Fort Smith, SSI Design-Build Constructors and more.

According to the organizations, Fort Smith has a near-critical need for skilled workers in advanced manufacturing, information technologies and healthcare. The ABB youth apprenticeship program is one element in this community-led effort to bringing together business, economic development, higher education and K-12 education to establish a workforce development model that creates a talent pipeline for existing and future businesses in the region.

"Developing our programs alongside the business community ensures we are delivering students with critical skills that are in high demand," said Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology at UAFS. "These students will not only have the opportunity to apply what they learn in school in a real-world environment, but they also will receive a regular paycheck while completing their high school careers."

The organizations said the ABB Youth Apprenticeship Program targets rising high school juniors and seniors who are enrolled in advanced manufacturing career and technical education programs at UAFS. Once the students are accepted into the program, they work full time for ABB over the summer and part time during the school year while attending high school and earning concurrent college credit.

"As ABB continues to invest in advanced manufacturing technology, equipment and processes, it's critical to have the right employees with the right skills to support them," said Johnny McKusker, vice president of operations for ABB's NEMA motors business.

Students will spend two months at ABB over the summer, dedicating 40 hours a week to both their studies and their career development. They will continue their advanced manufacturing curriculum with UAFS instructors on a daily basis in an on-site classroom at ABB and will begin to work with ABB staff to put their skills to use, the organizations said.