Northark, Wabash Collaboration Brings Credentials to Employees
Posted Date: 2/22/23

Wabash Wood Products, Inc. is a world-class manufacturer of advanced engineered solutions and services for transportation, logistics and distribution industries headquartered in Harrison. The company is a highly respected member of the business community who is set for expansion during a time when others are downsizing. Last year Wabash needed help. They were experiencing a significant shortage of available maintenance workers to hire who were equipped with basic training. They had two choices: send employees out of the area which cost time and money or choose not to provide training.

Enter David Mason, dean of workforce at North Arkansas College (Northark) with a solution only a community college could provide. David and the Wabash team met and decided to offer Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) training to upskill Wabash’s employees.  Employees complete four modules of training: Safety, Quality Practices and Measurement, Manufacturing Processes and Production, Maintenance Awareness and have a fifth option of Green Production. Four modules are required for full Certified Production Technician (CPT) certification. Each module takes six weeks to complete and includes a combination of hands on learning and online theory. Labs are conveniently located at the training facility at Wabash making attending classes easy for employees.

“Employees receive meaningful, industry recognized training through the MSSC program and awards them prior learning credit, a micro credential that is stackable towards a technical certificate,” David said. “Individuals can hold on to those and get a wage increase now or choose to continue their education.”  It paid off for employees at Wabash whose wages increased wages after completing the program.

Wabash Plant Manager Jason Patience says, “The MSSC program has provided our maintenance group with a unique opportunity to increase their skill level while providing us a measurable standard that ensures each employee is equipped to perform their jobs at a satisfactory level.  These employees are given classroom and hands-on instruction that prepares them to work on a variety of industrial maintenance applications including electrical, pneumatic, and hydraulic.  We are pleased to partner with Northark to pilot this valuable program.”   

A few months later, Northark had a problem. A limited budget restricted the purchase of new robots for students to learn on. Enter Wabash. The company donated two Fanuc robotic arms, worth $40K each that will be in the new CRMI building. Wabash has participated in $35K worth of customized workforce training in 2022 and has future sessions on the Northark’s schedule. Twenty-four of their employees have participated in Microsoft Office Training. As a premier partner of the college, Wabash is piloting MSSC for micro credentials. Micro credentials are short courses of industry recognized training that the college can grant credit for and Northark encourages other companies to follow suit.

David has been on the job for just over a year. “The biggest success I’ve seen is we’ve met the employer needs through the customizable training we offer. With the training we have completed with Wabash, PACE, Westrock and others, we have just scratched the surface potential of what we can do with our workforce.”

Northark’s workforce focus is a win for everyone. Workers get upward mobility with the added credentials, making them more competitive for potential employers compared to other candidates with similar levels of experience. Furthermore, with these credentials in hand differentiating their value from others, graduates can command higher salaries. Employers benefit from improved company culture by retaining their employees at higher rates through professional development. Data has reinforced employee retention increases when companies invest in their employees.

One of the hurdles David has overcome is the juggling of available part-time faculty to teach classes.  “We work around faculty schedules and two or three different shifts at the plants to provide training,” he said. “It’s difficult as a community college to pay what companies can pay consultants. But our faculty have a passion to teach, they aren’t there for an extravagant amount of money and the college can equip employees with educational credentials they can take anywhere.”

Northark broke ground on a new two-story, 32,500 square foot Center for Robotics and Manufacturing Innovation (CRMI) building last December and David is excited about future growth. “I see this as a unique opportunity and a game-changer in workforce training,” he commented. “Having the CRMI on Northark’s campus demonstrates our dedication, investment, and long-term commitment to our community. There is a space in this building for employers to innovate their processes, their practices and production so they have no downtime at their facility. They can do that at the CRMI, saving them time and money while increasing efficiencies.”

David says the key to elevating the Arkansas workforce is for individuals and businesses to meet with legislators, so they understand the significance of workforce and forge relationships that lead to significant improvements. “The CRMI is an excellent example of how multiple individuals and organizations working together can move the needle in the right direction to impact the workforce of Arkansas and ensure long-term sustainable success.”

For more information on Northark’s workforce offerings or to request customized training, contact David Mason at or by phone at (870) 391-3348.

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