Job training for state’s displaced is project goal

A new initiative from the University of Arkansas System matches Little Rock workers displaced by the pandemic with job training opportunities from colleges around the state.

The project is funded by a $900,000, three-year federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The first months involve gathering data from employers to understand the skill sets they seek out most. Then, according to their responses, training programs from colleges around the state will be brought to Little Rock. The purpose is to eliminate barriers to skills-based education, such as transportation and time.

People who successfully complete the training will likely receive credentials and certificates to commemorate their completion. About the program, Chris Thomason said, “We are confident, based upon the design, that the cost of training is going to be significantly less than what you would normally expect.” About $495,000 from the grant will be used to cover training and development expenses.

UA System and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock are contributing another $225,000 that’s considered the local match portion of the federal grant. The UALR portion of the funds will come from the waiver of indirect costs related to the involvement of the campus’ Arkansas Economic Development Institute.

Jim Youngquist, the AEDI’s executive director, said surveys and industry focus groups will be tools to gather information about employer needs, in addition to existing data sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“A lot of our data for this three-year grant is really based on primary data, going to business and industry, going to business developments and really going to employers to find out — because of covid and just because of changing environments and everything — where are there needs now?” Youngquist said.

“This is really the first time you see all of the training assets of all of the [UA System] schools right together under one training umbrella,” Thomason said.

Little Rock workers will benefit from the second phase of the program, the training phase. But, Thomason expects that by year three of the project there will be a model for the program to be replicated in other parts of the state.

“That’s the beauty of this model, is it brings all those training programs available and makes them available statewide, at a much more cost-effective manner and at lighting speed,” Thomason said.

“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,” Youngquist 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.”

Read the full story on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette website here and here.