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Ozark Campus helps dislocated workers

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In response to the recent Whirlpool layoffs in Fort Smith, Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Campus will continue to help increase dislocated workers’ skills and employability by decreasing barriers to education.

Although more targeted classes are planned for the future, Arkansas Tech-Ozark has been given approval to enroll 30 dislocated workers during the spring semester through Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a program of the U.S. Department of Labor implemented locally by the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services.

The 30 students will be enrolled in Arkansas Tech-Ozark’s Career Pathways Initiative (CPI), a grant-funded program designed to assist low-income parents in meeting their educational and career-training goals.

Since 2007, Arkansas Tech-Ozark has served more than 400 dislocated workers as a result of various layoffs throughout western Arkansas. More than 200 of those directly came from Whirlpool.

Ken Warden, chief business and community outreach officer, said, “This is a very unfortunate situation. We understand how this impacts laid-off workers and their families.

“As a responsive public institution, it’s our duty to help those who have lost jobs find employment through education.”

TAA can pay for up to 156 weeks worth of classes to complete a technical certificate or associate degree, as well as the costs of books. CPI can help their travel to and from classes through gas cards.

Being a two-year institution, Arkansas Tech-Ozark makes for an ideal TAA host. The campus has a flexible work schedule with service-related degrees designed to get its smaller-sized classes into the workplace as soon as possible. Also, it offers the most affordable tuition in the region – half the price of most schools – which helps both students and TAA.

Previous responses to layoffs by Arkansas Tech-Ozark include helping countless students through TAA, as well as customized nursing programs tailored to TAA students

Chief Student Officer Richard Harris said, “We are committed to helping; we’ve helped in the past, and we’ll help in the future.”

In fact, some Arkansas Tech-Ozark faculty and staff are former dislocated workers, such as Warden and Kenny Beeler, chair of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (ACR) Department.

Beeler enrolled at Arkansas Tech-Ozark in 2003 after Today’s Plastics in Booneville closed due to a downturn in the toy and plastics industry, leaving him without a job after 18 years of loyal service to the plant.

He said landing another good job in the industry would have required moving his family to Oklahoma City. Instead, he decided to enroll in Arkansas Tech-Ozark’s ACR program, eventually also joining the Skills USA team. That year he and a classmate went on to win the Skills USA national competition.

“I was the second person in my family to ever achieve any type of college degree,” Beeler said. “The experience I received while at school has been life-changing.

“When I graduated, I got a good job close to home without having to move. I was later asked if I would be interested in taking over the ACR program at the Ozark Campus.

“From that point to now, I’ve set and achieved goals I would’ve never set for myself had I not attended ATU-Ozark.”