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story.lead_photo.caption Information about continuation grant recipients

Twenty workforce training programs around the state will continue with the help of about $13.6 million in state Department of Higher Education grants to build stronger partnerships between schools and industry.

For some young workers, the new programs have already paid off.

"The program allowed me to jump forward a year," said Drake Edwards, 17, now working as an apprentice plumber.

In his senior year at Bauxite High School, Edwards took a free weeknight pre-apprentice class and traveled on Saturdays to the College of the Ouachitas in Malvern.

The college received $443,297 from the state Department of Higher Education to continue offering the program over the next two years.

The college's high school plumbing and electrical pre-apprenticeship program began in the 2016-17 academic year with 22 students, said program coordinator Matthew Cummings . Out of that group, 17 earned a certificate of proficiency, he said, and eight now work in apprenticeships earning an average pay of $12.29 per hour.

"We see it as a success so far," Cummings said, with enrollment rising to 57 students in 2017-18. An earlier state implementation grant of $520,000 helped the program get started.

Awards in the latest round of funding ranged from about $244,000 to $1 million.

Nick Fuller, deputy director at the state Department of Higher Education, said each of 20 programs begun with implementation grants awarded in 2016 will continue, with most programs receiving new awards to continue for two additional years.

"This initiative has been successful in breaking down the silos and increasing the coordination between high schools, two-year colleges, technical schools and industry," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement.

State Sen. Jane English, a Republican from North Little Rock, in 2015 sponsored legislation known as the Workforce Initiative Act of 2015. The act, backed by Hutchinson, created a grant program for workforce training programs through the state Department of Higher Education.

"I think there's some good things going on. It takes some time for people to get things started," English said.

Hutchinson, in a statement, said the state Department of Higher Education, sometimes referred to as ADHE, has reported that short-term training goals have been consistently met by the program.

"Its long-term goals, such as employment outcomes and wage progression, will take more time to accomplish, but ADHE is seeing early gains," Hutchinson said.

The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith received the most grant funding this year, a total of about $2 million split almost evenly between programs in cybersystems training and robotics automation.

Offered to students in grades 10 through 12, the programs this fall will begin having classes meet at local employer work sites, said Amanda Seidenzahl, UAFS' director of regional workforce grants.

For students, "I think it just connects them a little bit more to what they'll actually be doing in industry," Seidenzahl said. She said being on site every day "makes a different impact than going once a semester and seeing it."

The on-site classes, taught by UAFS faculty, will be held at robotics and automation company ABB and logistics company ArcBest, Seidenzahl said.

About 80 students have started in the cybersystems program since it began in fall 2016, while about 136 students have started the robot automation program, Seidenzahl said.

In the region, "we have a high need in these fields," Seidenzahl said, but she added that it's too early to know whether students are continuing on a career or educational path in those industries.

For all programs statewide, the most recent enrollment totals show about 8,855 participants through June of last year, said Alisha Lewis, the department's associate director of communications.

Fuller said the continuation grant applications were reviewed by the directors or other representatives from five state agencies: the Department of Higher Education, Department of Education, Department of Career Education, Department of Workforce Services and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Three educational programs were not awarded new grants but will continue with money leftover from previous grant awards, Fuller said. Those three programs may apply in a year for more funds, Fuller said.

Two such programs are run by Arkansas State University-Mountain Home.

"Our Pipeline grant is really focused on identifying under-employed or unemployed people who want to go to work, but for whatever reason are struggling," said Karen Heslep, dean of the college's School of Business and Technology.

Another grant covers training in Web and mobile development, Heslep said, with eleven students enrolled in the spring semester.

"We had some local employers starting to ask for these kinds of positions," Heslep said.

One of the largest area employers, Baxter Healthcare, has about 1,000 workers and has long had a strong relationship with Arkansas State University-Mountain Home, said Kelly Lucas, a senior human resources manager.

"This program has brought us closer together," Lucas said, referring to the Pipeline to Advanced Manufacturing program as well as another state grant received by Baxter Healthcare that allowed the company to purchase $1.9 million in equipment to be housed at the college.

Jesse Hutchison, 18, said he participated in manufacturing training through ASU-Mountain Home while still a student at Cotter High School. He now works at Baxter Healthcare, which is also using its state grant funds to pay for him to continue his education at ASU-Mountain Home.

With the early start in high school, "I knew a little bit about what I wanted to do when I got out of school," Hutchison said. The program "really helped me in my job field," he said.

Metro on 07/16/2018

Print Headline: School-to-work programs score $13.6M in funds

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