Home » Governor’s computer grads will have jobs, not press coverage | Steve Brawner – Times Record

Governor’s computer grads will have jobs, not press coverage | Steve Brawner – Times Record

by Arifa Rana

Gov. Asa Hutchinson participated in two economic development announcements Tuesday. One was the kind of 500-job announcement that generates a lot of press, and the other was about a policy that probably will create more jobs – but unnoticed and one at a time.
The more traditional kind of announcement came at the Port of Little Rock, where Hutchinson and other public officials joined Trex Company Inc. in announcing a backyard deck products manufacturing plant expected to employ 500 people on almost 300 acres. The company is making a $400 million investment over the next five years.
Trex’s deck products are composed of recycled plastic and wood. A 500-square-foot deck is composed of the equivalent of 140,000 recycled plastic bags, Hutchinson said at the announcement.
The port was one reason Trex chose Little Rock, which underscores how important river traffic is to Arkansas’ economy. Arkansas is blessed with a big river running through its center and an even bigger one on its eastern border. The Arkansas River could be an even greater asset if the Army Corps of Engineers would increase its channel depth to 12 feet. Advocates have tried for years to make that happen.
The governor left that announcement to make another one at the state Capitol that 12,547 high school students are enrolled in computer science courses this fall. The 2,097 student increase from last year is the largest one-year increase since the governor’s initiative began.
Hutchinson made computer science education a top priority during his campaign in 2014, and he has kept that promise. At first, all Arkansas public schools were required to offer a computer science course. As the program began, there were 1,104 students taking those classes, with only about 20 teachers statewide trained in providing instruction. Now there are nearly 600 trained teachers.
For several years, Hutchinson traveled the state urging students to take a computer course. Starting next year, they won’t have a choice if they want to graduate. Under Act 414 passed this year, all public school students will be required to earn at least one high school computer science credit, just as they now must earn credits in English and math. By 2023-24, all Arkansas public high schools will be required to employ a certified computer science teacher.
That means almost all the state’s nearly half-million public schoolchildren will take at least one computer science course before they graduate. For some, it will be a useful introduction to technical aspects of products they use daily. Instead of just constantly consuming digital media, they’ll better understand how the products work.
For others, it will create future job opportunities. Citing the tech group CompTIA, the Wall Street Journal in 2019 reported that there were about 918,000 unfilled information technology jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts computer science and IT jobs will grow 11% from 2019 to 2029. Arkansas students will be on a pathway to filling those jobs, which often can be done from home. Probably more than a few newly trained teachers will join them in the private sector, which means we’ll just have to train more.
Hutchinson has been recognized as a national leader in this area. An early feather in his cap was a 2015 Wired article headlined, “So, Arkansas is leading the learn to code movement.” As this year’s National Governors Association chairman, he’s pushing a national effort similar to Arkansas’ statewide one.
Where he won’t get much credit is down the road, when some of those half-million schoolchildren will be making very good money in computer science-related careers.
Maybe Arkansas will land a huge technology company, and the next governor will invite Hutchinson to sit next to her or him as the announcement is made.
But more likely, the jobs will come a few at a time, as companies post information technology job openings that young Arkansans will be ready to fill.
Those hirings won’t merit a press conference, but they will provide those former students a very good income they can use to buy a nice home – with a new deck manufactured in Arkansas, if they want one.
Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and syndicated columnist. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.


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