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U.S. aid to boost worker training

by Special to The Commercial | April 2, 2021 at 3:10 a.m.
Siemens U.S. provides job training to its employees in Princeton, N.J., in this Sept. 17, 2018, file photo. (Charles Sykes/AP Images for Siemens)

The University of Arkansas System was awarded a three-year $900,000 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration to boost the state's workforce recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic.

The University of Arkansas at Monticello will be among participants in the program, according to a news release.

The project's goal is to focus on identifying workforce populations most affected by the pandemic through data, and then aligning skills training for retraining and reemployment to support community pandemic recovery.

Nine UA System institutions will collaborate on the project. The effort will be led by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, to collect and analyze statewide workforce data and use outcomes to provide existing and bolstered education and training through all seven of the UA System's two-year colleges, along with two colleges of technology at UAM.

Once the development institute identifies the high-demand workforce needs, the full portfolio of training and credential programs across the two-year institutions and at UAM's colleges of technology will be matched to best meet the workforce training need, according to the release.

The $900,000 grant, which will be matched with $225,000 of local investment, will fund the development of a workforce training strategy with a special emphasis on technological skills that boosts community recovery efforts in Pulaski County and eventually across the state.

It also enables the creation of the UA System Workforce Response and Training Center, which will consist of a consortium of UA entities aligned to maximize training efforts that will be deployed in a data-driven, collaborative format.

"This project is groundbreaking on many levels, especially in the showcase of power that's possible by the UA System harnessing resources in a collaborative and innovative fashion for the greater good," said Chris Thomason, vice president for planning and development for the system."

"But most important is the positive impact this project will have on those adversely affected by the unprecedented disruption of the economy and the workforce during the covid-19 pandemic," Thomason said. "By identifying the specific needs of Arkansas communities and matching those with workforce training being offered by the UA System's seven two-year colleges and colleges of technology, we are truly promoting the UA System's mission of serving and providing educational and professional opportunities for all Arkansans."

Dennis Alvord is acting assistant secretary of commerce for economic development.

"Providing the tools and resources that communities need to recover from the economic impact of covid-19 is a top priority for [the Economic Development Administration]," said Alvord. "By working through the University of Arkansas System and its array of diverse colleges and universities across the state, this project checks all of the boxes on our goals to begin moving the country out of this pandemic and into recovery."

The development institute will operate as the lead data gathering and analyst hub, and the Workforce Response and Training Center will utilize the comprehensive, historical documentation of the impact of covid-19 on the state.

Jim Youngquist, executive director of the development institute at UALR, said that as the home of the state Data Center, the institute and its emphasis on supporting economic research data analysis positions his agency perfectly to lead the collaborative UA System effort.

"We will be developing a database that will track all aspects of identifying skill sets and jobs available for the underemployed, unemployed and hard-to-employ, all within the corridors of Little Rock where lower per-capita income and unemployment exists," he said. "Once the model is designed, implemented and successful, we will use [the institute's] statewide data to replicate regional training models across Arkansas to have the same impact. This will allow for a network of regional centers of excellence that will be easily accessible by all Arkansans."

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