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 (EDA) to boost the state’s workforce recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19.
Nine UA System institutions will collaborate on the project, led by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) 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 efforts through all seven of the UA System’s two-year colleges, along with two colleges of technology at the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM).
“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 UA 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. 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.”
The $900,000 EDA 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 (UA-WRTC), which will consist of a consortium of UA System entities aligned to maximize existing training efforts that will be deployed in a data-driven, collaborative format. The project’s goal is to focus on identifying workforce populations most impacted by the pandemic through data, and then aligning skills training opportunities for retraining and reemployment to support community pandemic recovery.
“Providing the tools and resources that communities need to recover from the economic impact of COVID-19 is a top priority for EDA,” said Dennis Alvord, acting assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. “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.”
AEDI will operate as the lead data gathering and analyst hub, and UA-WRTC will utilize the comprehensive, historical documentation of the impact of COVID-19 on the state. With the initial focus being Pulaski County, the effort will then spread statewide to develop workforce training strategies that promote expedited economic recovery and sustained growth. Once AEDI identifies the high-demand employer workforce needs, the full portfolio of existing training and credential programs across the entire UA System two-year institutions and at UAM’s colleges of technology will be matched to best meet the workforce training need.
“AEDI will foster the development of an industry training alliance comprised of regional employers and UA-WRTC institutions to identify critical economic infrastructure needs to sustain and grow workforce training programs for the region,” said Jim Youngquist, executive director of AEDI at UA Little Rock. “Special emphasis will be placed on technology and training simulators that will support the success of the centralized training model while ensuring that delivery of training will not be disrupted by future pandemic events.”
Youngquist said as the home of the Arkansas State Data Center, AEDI and its existing 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 AEDI’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.”
The collaboration includes:
UA System Two-Year Institutions
Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas
University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana
University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville
Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas
University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton
University of Arkansas Community College at Rich Mountain
University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College
Other UA System Entities
University of Arkansas at Monticello
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Arkansas Economic Development Institute
“Workforce development plays a critical role in helping citizens develop necessary skills to secure well-paying jobs and ensuring our state continues to attract and retain employers,” said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark. “This funding will bolster our economic recovery and put hardworking Arkansans in a good position to provide for their families.”
The collaborative project is funded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided the EDA with $1.5 billion for economic assistance programs to help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.