Philanthropy Roundtable believes every American should have the freedom to reach his or her full, unique potential and achieve economic security. The Roundtable supports organizations that eliminate barriers to upward mobility, expand opportunity and reward hard work and perseverance.
It is no secret the United States is facing a labor shortage. The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measured employment in July, shows that the U.S. added 548,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate dipped to 3.5%. Nevertheless, the hiring side of the labor market continues to have unmet needs. Over the past year, many employers have complained of labor shortages, particularly those who work in the skilled trades.
In fact, more than 82% of manufacturers report a moderate or serious shortage in skilled production workers, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, and employers in the industry struggle to hire and retain both entry level and skilled workers.
To address this growing demand for labor, organizations like Be Pro Be Proud are making it their mission to connect people to jobs as quickly as possible. The Arkansas-based nonprofit is “leading the movement to bring a new generation of pride, progress and professionals to America’s skilled workforce.”
The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Arkansas launched the organization in 2016 to attract students and young adults to technical careers through simulation experiences, and then connect them to post-secondary training opportunities that prepare them for high-demand, high-wage technical careers. Over time, the approach started to gain traction. Using a state and regional partnership model, Be Pro Be Proud has since expanded its presence to Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. Other states across the nation are lining up to learn more. Since their founding and subsequent expansion, they have reached over 175,000 individuals with their education and employment services.
Executive Director Andrew Parker says part of the organization’s success has been bringing more awareness to technical career opportunities in four industry sectors: construction, manufacturing, transportation and utilities.
“Because the problem is multi-faceted, so must be the solution. Students know nearly nothing about technical careers in these sectors. Parents perceive them as low-wage, less-than, back-breaking dirty jobs only pursued by those who ‘aren’t college material.’ We must present the facts about these careers and eliminate the stigmas about them all. While a significant task, it is an achievable one because technical careers are not low-wage, middle-skilled jobs. They are precision-based, professional jobs,” he said. “The demands, the responsibilities, the technology and the skills needed are on par with traditional professional occupations. And in many cases, the income and advancement potential meet or exceed their bachelor’s degree-based counterparts. These careers should be viewed by everyone as those of first choice, not last resort.”
Over 25 companies invested in and partnered with Be Pro Be Proud at the onset of the initiative, giving Parker the ability to launch a website and design a “mobile workshop” in a 44-foot trailer pulled by a Freightliner truck donated by Truck Centers of Arkansas. Today, the Be Pro Mobile Workshop 2.0 is triple the size of its predecessor and serves as the hub for the organization’s programming, touring middle schools, high schools, two-year colleges, community events, job fairs and businesses, and allowing interactive exposure to these careers. Due to overwhelming demand, Parker and team are working with their fabricator to bring a second 2.0 version to Arkansas. Each Mobile Workshop can be customized to teach audiences about as many as 16 professions, including:
- Computer Numerical Control Operator (CNC)
- Diesel Tech
- Heavy Equipment Operator
- HVACR Tech
- Locomotive Engineer
- Overhead Lineman
- Truck Driver
“What you end up seeing is each state customizing the mobile workshop(s) to reflect the industries and companies that are most relevant to their states and constituents,” said Parker.
Once participants engage with the mobile workshop, they can sign up to learn more and opt into social media, text and email campaigns that serve as part of Be Pro Be Proud’s recruitment processes. Association, corporate and education partners are also provided exclusive access to the recruitment database to use as part of their own recruitment activities.
Tim Minton, executive vice president of the North Carolina Home Builders Association, credits Be Pro Be Proud with helping to spur interest in the skilled trades sector.
“Labor is the number one issue for our industry right now, and Be Pro Be Proud is one meaningful way for us to move the needle in the right direction,” he said.
With this type of creative solutioning, it is no surprise the organization has seen some significant successes. Roughly 84% of educators who have interacted with Be Pro Be Proud say it has helped their students understand training and career opportunities and is now part of the daily conversation in their classrooms and school hallways. Over 70% of students have considered one of the promoted professions as a potential training or career pathway and post-secondary schools are reporting increased enrollments in relevant programs. Also, according to the teachers, a growing number of their at-risk students have found purpose that has positively impacted their school performance.
Be Pro Be Proud is building tomorrow’s workforce and with it, the next generation of fortune creators.
For more information, visit BeProBeProud.org. or reach out to Erica Haines.