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Online platform starts for job, education help in state

by Rachel Herzog | January 14, 2021 at 6:53 a.m.
Gina Windle, the Arkansas Department of Education chief of staff, answers questions during a news conference Wednesday at the state Capitol. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

An initiative that aims to expand educational and employment opportunities for Arkansans through an online resource platform launched Wednesday, officials announced.

The platform can be accessed at readyforlife.arkansas.gov. For job seekers, it offers online skills courses, career navigation resources and job postings.

For employers, the website offers ways to connect with job seekers in their area and showcase their company to candidates.

At a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday, officials said the website will be a vital tool for Arkansans affected by unemployment during the covid-19 pandemic, as well as for companies looking to locate in Arkansas.

"We have to be more efficient in connecting our work skills and work certifications with employers, and that's been a challenge for us to pull all that together, just as it's a challenge for many states," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.

The Ready for Life initiative is funded with $14.7 million from the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Fund, which is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Arkansas received a total of $30.7 million in GEER funding, which is to be used for improving educational opportunities, through online systems, Hutchinson said.

Of the $14.7 million put toward the initiative, more than $4.5 million is going to the state's two-year institutions to expand workforce training opportunities in high-wage and high-demand careers, Hutchinson said.

About $200,000 has been allocated for marketing the program to students and employers.

A working group that Hutchinson convened to determine how to best reach the state's goals of improving educational and employment opportunities included Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education Chief of Staff Gina Windle, Arkansas Office of Skills Development Deputy Director Cody Waits, Arkansas Division of Workforce Services Assistant Director Kris Jones, Arkansas Division of Information Systems data warehouse lead Robert McGough, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce Education to Employee Director Rick Neal, Arkansas Community Colleges Association Executive Director Andrea Henderson and Hutchinson's deputy chief of staff, Bill Gossage.

For people looking for employment or a career change, the website offers tools to explore jobs, build a resume, view opportunities in their area and learn about local companies, as well as offering online courses for high-demand skills.

The website gives employers access to the resumes and training results of job seekers.

Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said the website will be a way for Arkansas to market its work force to companies looking to locate in the state.

"Anytime you sit down with a company now, the first thing out of their mouth is always, 'Tell us about your workforce. ... How are we going to find the workers in your state to fill the jobs that we need?'" Preston said.

Windle said the rest of the $30.7 million in GEER funds that Arkansas received has been allocated to other education-related initiatives including expanding short-term certificate programs for two-year colleges; fulfilling some of the recommendations of the Arkansas Computer Science and Cybersecurity Task Force; and creating a map showing broadband speeds and providers across the state, which was also released Wednesday.

The broadband map can be found at arkansas.vetro.io.

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