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Three State Programs Designed to Strengthen Arkansas’ Workforce

 March 23, 2018
Editor's note: This blog post was guest written by Cody Waits, Deputy Director of the Department of Career Education, Office of Skills Development.
Though the debate over whether or not a four-year college degree is the right choice for everyone rages on, it is without question that every Arkansan deserves to learn a skill or set of skills that can lead to a career path with high-paying wages. At the same time, existing and potential employers in Arkansas need a trained, qualified and motivated workforce.
The Office of Skills Development (OSD) is part of the Arkansas Department of Career Education and is responsible for aligning career and technical education programs with the skills needed by Arkansas’ businesses and industries. Generating a consistent, educated and well-trained workforce is part of Arkansas’ strategy for being one of the best states for business development. Below are the programs administered by the OSD to develop and enhance Arkansas’ competitive workforce.

1. The State Apprenticeship Office provides oversight to the more than 100 Department of Labor (DOL)-registered apprenticeship programs currently operating in Arkansas, as well as the Arkansas Apprenticeship Coordinating Steering Committee.

Fast facts:
  • The Apprenticeship office aims to grow the number of apprenticeships available in the state.
  • As of February 1, 2018, Arkansas has more than 5,000 apprentices in programs.
  • Fiscal year 2017 into 2018 saw significant growth, with an additional 1,700 apprentices, and the trend is expected to continue.
  • Apprenticeships work for companies of all sizes and can provide employers with a pipeline of talent, loyal employees, and talent more likely to become supervisors within the organization.
  • The State Apprenticeship Office receives $2.4 million annually to fund registered DOL apprenticeship programs. As the number of these programs continues to grow, additional funding may be necessary to support the increase.

2. The Secondary Technical Centers are designed to provide career and technical education programs in alignment with regional and state workforce priorities.

Fast facts:
  • The Centers work to prepare high school students to enter the workforce at the end of their senior year in high school, with industry-recognized certifications and credentials.
  • The Centers also help those who are interested continue on into post-secondary education to attain higher certifications or degrees.
  • Courses include computer engineering, advanced manufacturing, industrial maintenance technology, construction technology, medical professions and welding, among others.
  • The courses are determined through feedback from companies and industries within the state, based on their most pressing workforce needs.
  • The Secondary Technical Centers allow multiple high schools to send students for instruction and training in these program areas where students do not have access to them at their local school.
  • There are currently 26 Secondary Technical Centers with 29 satellite locations and two pilot programs around the state.
  • The goal is to be able to ensure that every high school student in Arkansas has access to a Secondary Technical Center.

3. The Workforce Training Grants Program’s goal is to strategically invest in all levels of the Arkansas workforce, raising education and skill levels to meet the needs of companies operating in Arkansas.

Fast facts:
  • There are four categories of grants offered to businesses:
    • Skills Gap grants address a lack of a specific skill set in a given region, industry sector, or across the entire state.
    • Customized Technical grants address the needs for industry-specific technical training tailored to a company, skill, or specialized piece of equipment.
    • Professional Development grants help provide training applicable to a majority of employees or supervisors in topics such as leadership, conflict management, and teamwork professionalism.
    • Grow Our Own grants address the needs of companies headquartered in Arkansas and have 250 or fewer full-time employees in the entire company.
  • Available as incentives for both small and large businesses, employers may receive reimbursement for their trainings up to 75 percent, with the exception of the Professional Development category trainings, which are funded at $100 per hour or 50 percent of the cost of the training, whichever is least.
  • In Fiscal Year 2017, 100 individual companies applied with a total of 185 grant proposals, of which 155 were approved.
  • In FY 2017, $1,765,132 in funding was awarded to companies across the state.
  • The goal for FY 2018 is to award $2,225,000, of which more than $1,630,000 has been awarded to 90 companies.
The OSD facilitates economic development for the state by assisting local employers through workforce training grants and workforce education programs in Arkansas. OSD also invests in necessary training requirements of the diverse Arkansas workforce, which will enhance and sustain the growth and effectiveness of companies in Arkansas.
The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) plays a vital role in evaluating and awarding training grants from OSD by assisting with the review of each and every grant awarded. The insight that AEDC offers to the review committee enhances the context in which the company has submitted the training application. Information such as economic impact from the results of requested training is crucial to the committee’s understanding of grant requests. AEDC is familiar with 90-95 percent of the companies that submit grant requests and adds a perspective that can be invaluable as applications are reviewed.