By: David J. Smith, February 18, 2015

Today, community colleges are focused on a broad range of objectives including liberal arts education, community offerings, and vocational training.   Workforce development is an important emphasis nationwide, and many colleges have been able to forge strong relationships with local businesses that often have national and international reach.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College is located in Bentonville, Arkansas. Bentonville is also the world headquarters of Walmart. Founded by Sam Walton as Walton’s Five and Dime in 1945, today Walmart is an international company with 11,000 locations, employing 2.2 million people with net income of $16.022 in 2013.

NorthWest Arkansas, known as N-WACC in the community, has been able to leverage the presence of Walmart to improve its strategies, as well as offer education and training to Walmart employees and their dependents.

I visited N-WACC on February 10 and gave presentations to faculty and students. Mary Machira, the director of global education at the college, was my host.  We talked about the importance of “soft skills” as being essential to employee success. College leaders shared with me the importance of these skills, and their efforts to make sure that the local population was well-prepared, not only to work in Arkansas, but also internationally.   Learning can be framed as “cognitive” (what you know), “behavioral” (what you do), and “affective” (how you feel).   Though community colleges do a good job at cognitive learning, more emphasis needs to be placed on behavioral learning particularly as it relates to aptitudes such as problem solving, relationship building, and perspective taking, all of which are conflict-related skills.

Walton's Five and Dime, now a museum
Walton’s Five and Dime, now a museum

After my visit, I received a short note from Tim Cornelius, Vice President of Learning – Global Business, Health Professions and External Programs at the college who wrote that the points made about the importance of soft skills “resonated with me as I hear those exact words from employers in the northwest Arkansas area.” A community college that focuses on “soft skills” can position itself to work closely with local business and industry to build a better workforce. This is how N-WACC perceives its relationship with Walmart.