Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Friday, Dec. 17, that he is committing $4.2 million in funding to a pilot workforce development program that will be overseen by a unit of Arkansas Tech University.
One aspect of the pilot program will allow the Arkansas Tech Institute, a non-formula entity of ATU, to build a career coaching model that will benefit high school students, underemployed workers and employers in the Arkansas River Valley.
An additional utilization of the funding will allow the Arkansas Tech Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management to partner on an initiative to develop and implement an employment ecosystem in the Arkansas River Valley that supports career opportunities for individuals who were previously incarcerated.
The effort will align with the Arkansas Department of Education Ready for Life program, which was introduced by Hutchinson in January 2021 as a means to support Arkansans who want to improve their skills or change careers as well as gather career and employment data from business and industry.
“This pilot will be starting right here in Russellville and include $4.2 million that will go to Arkansas Tech University to oversee this initiative and partnership,” said Hutchinson, who announced the pilot program during the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce annual meeting. “This is the first pilot of its kind, and hopefully with the success that will come here we can expand this initiative more.”
The pilot program Hutchinson announced on Friday is one aspect of the newly-recognized Arkansas Tech Institute, which aims to create a non-credit educational and training entity that would utilize career coaching, prior learning assessment, work-based learning opportunities and micro credentials to connect adult learners, underemployed workers and unemployed individuals with career advancement and support economic development in the Arkansas River Valley.
Agriculture, business, computer science, emergency management, engineering, health care and technical programs are among the disciplines that could be included in the programming provided by the Arkansas Tech Institute.
“Arkansas Tech is grateful to Gov. Asa Hutchinson for this demonstration of support for the enhanced culture of workforce development that is on the rise in the Arkansas River Valley,” said Dr. Robin E. Bowen, ATU president. “Our university is pleased to play an integral role in the efforts to bring more and better career opportunities to our region.”
The Arkansas Tech Institute is part of a collaborative effort between ATU, the City of Russellville, the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Russellville School District and regional industry partners to create the Arkansas River Valley Works initiative.
A regional economic study commissioned by the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce and entitled “Building a Regional Workforce Advantage” provided workforce development recommendations that included expanding practice-based learning experiences through internships and apprenticeships, increasing career awareness through career coaching and developing a qualified workforce by leveraging the delivery of industry-recognized micro credentials.
The study identified manufacturing and food processing, health care, transportation and logistics, electric power generation and transmission, cybersecurity and information technology as employment sectors with the highest potential for growth in the next five years.
“Our progress thus far and our future success in this endeavor would not be possible without the commitment and hard work of our partners at the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce,” said Bowen. “The working agreement between the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Russellville Regional Workforce Development Cabinet and ATU will serve as a foundation for job growth and economic development in our region.”