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Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club on Wednesday hosted Be Pro Be Proud, an initiative led by the Associated Industries of Arkansas that seeks to bring a new generation of professionals to the states skilled workforce by addressing the skills gap and changing the narrative about high-wage skilled professions.

Right now, Americas workforce is facing a challenge with over 23% of current skilled professionals at or near retirement age, but the country isnt prepared to fill their positions once they retire, Be Pro Be Prouds website said.

According to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Be Pro Be Proud offers opportunities for job seekers, skilled professionals, employers, and teachers to be involved through training, workshops and more.

The initiative brought its mobile workshop — a specialized trailer with multiple simulations, some virtual reality, of skilled workforce jobs for interactive demonstration — to the Rotary meeting at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs. Among the options were a trucking simulator, a train engineer simulator, and an excavator simulator.

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Among those enjoying the simulators was City Manager Bill Burrough, who tried his hand at trucking.

“I’m very glad that they’re here in Hot Springs… showing us the Be Pro Be Proud truck,” Burrough said.

“We have a number of students that will not be going to a four-year institution and maybe not a two-year, but we certainly need workforce within our community and this gives an opportunity for a high school junior, senior to come in and experience some of these needed positions, whether it’s truck driving, welding, whatever that might be,” he said.

“Gives them an opportunity to have a feel of that to see if that’s something they’d be interested in in the future. I love the fact that we’re working on workforce development and not just four-year institutions, both are very important ,” Burrough said, noting the mobile workshop is “something that I don’t think we’ve seen in the past.”

“Over the last six years, we’ve had almost 800 tour stops and nearly 300 more cities and towns across the state … we see about 60 schools a semester. We have about 2000 kids that we see every week,” Andrew Parker , executive director of Be Pro Be Proud, said.

“We have a new truck coming online in September, so we expect to see about 25,000 students a semester. And we are increasing the level of activity that we are going to do with high schools and middle schools. Our target audience is 13- to 18-year-old students. 50% have been female, 50% have been male, racial demographics are about the same And we are going to take that impact and also start reaching out to underemployed, unemployed populations,” he said.

Parker noted future outreach and awareness efforts would also be dedicated to two-year collegiate institutions.

“We’ve had an enormous response from teachers across the state that said ‘this is the best thing provided to our kids in this community ever,'” he saidphotos 

The Be Pro Be Proud mobile workshop is shown at Wednesday’s meeting of the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club. – Photo by Andrew Mobley of The Sentinel-Record

photos Members of Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club are shown how the Be Pro Be Proud mobile workshop’s truck driving simulator functions. – Photo by Andrew Mobley of The Sentinel-Record