LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday signed into law three Senate bills containing key components of his workforce education initiative.

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday signed into law three Senate bills containing key components of his workforce education initiative.


The bills "really enhance our ability to improve job-skill training in Arkansas," Hutchinson said during a bill-signing ceremony at the Capitol where he was joined by legislative leaders, education officials and business leaders.


"This is one of the crying needs of our state, to drive economic development, to make sure that we can compete with our other national partners and states in terms recruiting industry, and to support the existing industry we have. To do that, we had to have a more robust system of job-skill training that matches the needs of industry," Hutchinson said.


Hutchinson signed:


—Senate Bill 368, now Act 892 of 2015, by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, which calls for the creation of the Career Education and Workforce Development Board, to create and administer a comprehensive statewide workforce education program, and the Office of Skills Development within the Department of Career Education, to award grants to workforce training programs. About $15 million will go to the grant program, Hutchinson said.


—SB 891, act number not available, also by English, which calls for the creation of a program through the Department of Higher Education to provide planning grants for workforce training programs at two-year colleges and schools. Hutchinson said $2 million in discretionary money will go to the grant program.


—SB 791, now Act 907 of 2015, by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Benton, which calls for creation of the Arkansas Workforce Development Board, a body of representatives of Arkansas industries who will advise the governor on workforce needs, and regional workforce development boards, which will advise the governor on workforce needs specific to their regions. The bill also calls for the creation of a plan to make the best use of federal funding for workforce training programs.


"This is a fairly dramatic change," Hutchinson said. "It’s more than a course correction, it’s a shift in direction for Arkansas."


Hutchinson said the the success of his initiative will be judged based on specific performance measures that the state will track, including the number of schools that participate in workforce training programs, the number of students who graduate with workforce training and the degree to which the needs of industry are met.


Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, who helped with the legislation, told reporters after the ceremony, "I think it’s one of the things that have happened in this session that’s kind of gone unnoticed a little bit, the changes that have been made in workforce development and career education."


"I think they’re kind of below the surface, but they’re going to pay huge dividends down the road for Arkansas because for the first time we’re going to have data-driven decision-making about what job skills and job training are going to be offered. The two-year colleges, the career centers, are going to be required to have an articulated program that’s going to be designed to meet the needs of those specific occupations," Gossage said.


During the session, Gossage also sponsored a bill for Hutchinson to require all public high schools in the state to offer a computer science course.


English told reporters Monday, "We have the opportunity to move the state in a whole new direction."