Throughout this day and tomorrow, just behind the Nevada School complex students will be touring the Be Pro Be Proud truck, a shiny combination of two truck trailers that contain several learning stations for skilled occupations very much in demand these days, but which don’t require expensive years or decades of college.
As students trooped through the trailer, they were greeted by Jimmy Rodden and Cam Turney, tour managers who have been taking the Be Pro Be Proud truck all around the state of Arkansas and showing off its several vocational profession simulators.
The most popular simulators were the excavator, that allows a student to try out using a cartoon backhoe to fill a cartoon dump truck with cartoon dirt granules using controls similar to what would be found in the machine’s cab, and the 18-wheeler, which tests the student’s ability to drive a few blocks in town and then take off for the open highway.
Cam Turney listed the other stations available for students to try out or simply observe. There is the line worker’s bucket to simulate the experience of making repairs to electrical lines from an elevated bucket, the robotic arm, provided by Tyson Foods, which is often used in that company’s plants, the Computer Numerical Control machine which uses precise programming language to carry out precision cuts of materials and four pair of Oculus goggles which simulate being involved in plumbing and construction work.
Turney said students from the eighth grade and up would be brought to the truck. Several upperclassmen from Nevada who got extra training this morning were also on hand as ambassadors to assist their fellow students with the simulators. These ambassadors, who got free t-shirts, were usually selected by teachers for their interest in the skilled trades field. Every hour a new group of about 25 students visited the facility as the ambassadors led the way.
One of the ambassadors, Jordin Haley, a sophomore, said she was elected to be an ambassador and that she had a special interest in working with the robotic arm. Another ambassador, Faith Gibbs, a junior, said she is not sure if operating a backhoe is in her future, but said she found playing with the simulator, in which she was mastering the digging of dirt and the transferring of it to a dump truck very interesting.
Turney closed his brief speech to the students by saying, “As soon as you get through with high school, you can make money. You don't have to wait until you're 24, 25, 26 years old to figure out what you can do like I had to. That's what all of this is about.” The students paid close attention to what Turney said, before they were fanned out to try out the different stations in the trailer.
After about 45 minutes spent at the stations, students were reassembled to hear from Jimmy Rodden, a CDL driver himself, about the opportunities available for students interested in skilled trades. “This is a little taste of what you would get when you go to these types of colleges your go up to a truck driving school or you go to a welding school,” he said.
Rodden told of a Heavy Equipment Operator instructor who had been there earlier in the day. “It’s more than just using an excavator. He can teach you how to work on a crane,” Rodden said, and explained that a crane operator could make as much as $200 an hour. He knew of friends who worked only six months a year. “The rest of the year they're down in the Caribbean enjoying the good things in life.”
Rodden said going through training for a skilled job would likely leave graduates in much less debt than going to college would, because of less time spent and the grants available for vocational training. He referred the Nevada students to the Be Pro Be Proud website for more information. They could also take a free Arkansas next PROS magazine.
The truck and tour is sponsored by many Arkansas state agencies, but also by dozens of companies interested in recruiting students with the skills promoted at the stations. These organizations’ names and logos, too many to name them all, are displayed throughout the interior and exterior of the trailer.
Rodden spoke about the most recent sponsor to contribute to the Be Pro Be Proud tour. “We just had a meeting with Arkansas Poultry Commission on Friday. They are a new sponsor of the program. And they're desperate. I mean, everything that we talked about up here, all the different stations can be done in the poultry industry. They've got scholarships for these kids that go to these schools as long as it leads to a career in the poultry industry.”