C4 students to benefit from new program

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Career and technical education students at Connect 4 in Berryville will soon have access to a new program, one that will give financially disadvantaged students a chance to gain real-world work experience and earn a paycheck while still attending school.

The program, part of a publicly funded workforce system operated by the Arkansas Workforce Development Board and funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, is designed to increase access and opportunities for the employment, education, training and support services that individuals need to succeed in the labor market.

Under the WIOA plan, qualifying students can gain greater access to paid internships at participating businesses and the state program will cover most expenses associated with the position in an effort to make it easier for the student to start a new job and for the business to hire another worker.

James Knight, an instructor at C4, called the program an important one — both for students and for small businesses.

“WIOA pays the trainee’s salary, they take care of all the insurance needs, they buy tools for whatever field they're in, buy them some work clothes, some work boots and the company’s not out anything,” Knight said. “We’re just now getting into it. It’s really important because the end goal for us is to place students into jobs when they graduate. If we can do that while they’re still going to school, that’s even better.”

The three-year-old Connect 4 program — or C4 — offers junior and senior students from the Berryville, Eureka Springs and Green Forest school districts the opportunity to pursue a technical education during the school day. The program is housed in the Carroll County Career Center, formerly the Berryville Readiness Center, and offers instruction in a number of disciplines with an eye toward industrial maintenance, machining, welding, robotics and electrical work, providing students with a cross-curricular background in different trades.

In the spring, C4 recognized 12 students from the three county school districts who had been placed with local companies ranging from Tyson Foods, Nighthawk Custom and Ducommun to Campco, Nomad Piping & Fabrication and Silver Dollar City.

The WIOA program provides C4 with the opportunity to place even more students in good positions with area companies.

“We have one placed already and I’ve got another one we’re probably going to have signed up by the end of the week,” Knight said. “Whatever we’ve got, there’s funding available, I think, to do six in total. I’m trying to network with some different companies in my spare time and make them aware of the opportunities and see if they’re interested.”

C4’s enrollment for this school year numbers 68 students — 10 from Eureka Springs High School, 26 from Berryville and 32 from Green Forest — representing a significant increase over 2020-2021, when 53 students were enrolled. According to Knight, the program has a job placement rate of 62.5 percent.

“The ones that we didn’t place, some went to college and some moved away,” Knight said. “Probably midway through the summer, I had a couple of different companies call in, seeing if we had any more we could send their way.”

Overall, Knight said the companies that have worked with C4 during the past three years seem extremely pleased with the program’s results.

“I haven’t heard any complaints yet,” Knight said. “Since the COVID restrictions are opening up a bit, we’re getting companies coming back in or industrial leaders coming back to do specific classes and interact with the students. They can see who’s going to pay attention, who’s got a good work ethic and who’s going to be a good fit for their company.”

And now, thanks to WIOA, more companies — and more students — will have the opportunity to connect.

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