Agriculture and agribusiness have long been an important part of Arkansas, and it continues to be a leading provider of agriculture products. As the state's economy slowly recovers from the recession, more emphasis continues to be placed on workforce development and career training. Additionally, Arkansas has slowly diversified its economy, becoming a major player in areas such as manufacturing, transportation and trade, tourism and hospitality, business services and more.
Vocational education trends in Arkansas
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the biggest industries in the state (by total employees) include trade and transportation, government, education & health services, and manufacturing (see chart below). Of course, there may be employment and career opportunities in other sectors, too.
Vocational education can give students options to quickly prepare for employment in the workforce, including in some of Arkansas' largest sectors. From diplomas and certificates to associate degrees, learning can last up to two years or less and provide you with hands-on skills and workforce readiness. As a matter of fact, the Lumina Foundation reports that just 7.23 percent of 25-to-64 year-olds in the state have an associate degree, but that many more, 23.6 percent, have some level of postsecondary education, just no degree.
- Trade and Transportation: From railroads to highways to airports, Arkansas employs plenty of people in the transportation field. The state is even part of the Southeastern Transportation Alliance, a collection of state transportation agencies, and has exports that go around the world, totaling more than $7 billion in export value in 2012. If you are interested in transportation and travel, opportunities at community colleges and vo-tech schools might vary from training to become a long-distance truck driver to learning about the hospitality field and studying to become a travel agent.
- Government: Jobs available in government range from the local city level all the way up to county and statewide. From law enforcement to parks and recreation to criminal justice, there are many ways to enter the government field. To boot, government jobs often come with desirable benefits packages, including the opportunity to save for retirement. An associate degree in criminal justice could be valuable to finding a government job, but so too could a two-year degree in social work or human services, or even business administration.
- Education and Health Services: The face of these two fields continues to change as technology plays a more and more important role in services and outreach. If you are looking for educational opportunities, you could consider early education training or an associate degree in public relations, while those wanting a health services career could pursue a licensed vocational nursing program or a two-year public health degree. There also are associate degrees available in business administration, information technology and healthcare management that could be advantageous to employment in fields.
Potential employers in Arkansas
Arkansas' business climate has attracted 11 Fortune 500 companies to the state and several of them, including Wal-Mart Stores, Tyson Foods and Dillard's, Inc. have headquarters in Arkansas. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the state, employing nearly 50,000 individuals in 2013.
Other major employers span a spectrum of business sectors:
- Baptist Health of Little-Rock (Health Care)
- Arvest Bank Group (Finance)
- O.K. Industries Inc. (Food Production)
- Lowe's Company (Retail and Construction)
- Arkansas State Government (Government)
Career info for trade school grads in Arkansas
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the state should continue to experience employment growth in several areas (e.g. health care and manufacturing) in the next decade. Many of the occupations projected to experience the biggest employment gains are vocational-related career fields, including the following:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Median Wage|
|Chemical Equipment Operators and Tenders||1,110||46,840|
|Computer Numerically Controlled Machine Tool Programmers, Metal and Plastic||170||35,910|
|Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operators, Metal and Plastic||1,550||36,310|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||360||58,470|
|Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||290||20,970|
|Home Health Aides||7,040||17,960|
|Insulation Workers, Mechanical||160||31,320|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||200||66,040|
|Personal Care Aides||14,840||18,160|
|Physical Therapist Aides||330||22,240|
|Welding, Soldering, and Brazing Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders||1,440||35,620|
Prospective students considering enrollment in a vocational or career training program should learn more about how a certificate, diploma or degree could help pave the way for new career opportunities in one of Arkansas growing industry areas.
Financial Aid in Arkansas
According to the Lumina Foundation, when Arkansas first created its merit-based scholarship program, legislators set aside 15 percent of that funding specifically for non-traditional college students. That has since increased to 20 percent. Of course, the first step to looking for aid is to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) paperwork. This could lead to opportunities for work-study programs, grants and scholarships. Many other financial aid programs also require completion of this form. Among the financial aid opportunities in Arkansas are the:
- Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship - This is available through the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. More than 200,000 scholarships have been granted to date, and funding is available for two-year and four-year scholarships.
- Governor's Distinguished Scholarship - An award amount of up to $10,000 a year is available to high school students with at least a 3.5 GPA and high scores on their SAT or ACT. Of note, completion of the FAFSA is not required to apply.
- Higher Education Opportunities Grant - This grant provides funding of up to $500 a year for part-time students and $1,000 a year for full-time students. Applicants must meet specific financial aid criteria and also need to be a resident of the state for at least 12 months prior.
- Workforce Improvement Grant - Amounts up to $2,000 are awarded to students who are 24 years or older and seeking higher education. Financial need is a requirement, and students can be enrolled in school part time.
Scholarships and grants can help to offset the costs or tuition, fees, and sometimes even other costs or charges. The College Board reports the following 2015-2016 averages for in-state tuition and fees in Arkansas:
- Public two-year schools: $3,403
- Public four-year schools: $7,867
There are other ways to help decease the costs of a college education. Some of these include working part- or full-time while completing an education program, living with parents or family, and applying to schools as an in-state student. You may also want to begin looking for financial aid opportunities as soon as possible, and buy materials and books second-hand, too.
- Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas USA 2014,
- Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas Largest Employers, 2012, http://www.arkansasedc.com/sites/default/files/media/Arkansas%20Largest%20Employers%202012.pdf
- ArkansasBusiness.com, Top Employers in Arkansas Keep Steady Payroll of Workers,
- Arkansas Economic Development Commission,
- Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Major Employers by County,
- College for You, Arkansas Department of Higher Education, no date, http://scholarships.adhe.edu/scholarships-and-programs/high-school/
- Economy at a Glance, Arkansas, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2016 http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ar.htm
- Institute for Trade and Transportation Studies, http://www.ittsresearch.org/ARprofile/arkansas-export%20brochure.pdf
- Scholarships, Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, http://www.myarkansaslottery.com/about/scholarships
- Strategy Labs, The Lumina Foundation, http://strategylabs.luminafoundation.org/in-the-states/ar
- Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, The College Board, no date, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time
- Walton College's Center for Business and Economic Research, Arkansas Economy Data,