They may have lost their jobs, are incarcerated or simply lost the opportunity to further their education. In Arkansas, those individuals are being given new hope and a chance to pursue jobs that are in demand.
Using a combined $13.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the University of Arkansas and Shorter College in North Little Rock will be offering short-term workforce education training to those who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with private partner iDatafy LLC and the state’s Workforce Development Board and Division of Workforce Services, the two institutions are launching the new Reimagine Workforce Project that will pay tuition and fees for qualified students who enroll.
“The U of A is committed to serving the educational needs of Arkansans, and that includes those who need workforce development to thrive during this public health crisis,” said Cheryl Murphy, vice provost for distance education and head of the Global Campus that is heading up the initiative at the University of Arkansas.
Funding for the project comes through the CARES Act’s 2020 Education Stabilization Fund: Reimagine Workforce Preparation grant. Eight of the most impacted states were given a combined $126 million to help develop new skills and entrepreneurship ideals to underserved populations that can be leveraged quickly through credentials at transformative businesses during and after the pandemic.
The Arkansas Global Campus, which is receiving $10 million, will partner with the Division of Workforce Service and work with employers to look at skills gaps and develop a pool of students that can help meet those needs. The Global Campus will be offering fast-track online programs that not only help individuals but provide companies with talent to fill those roles.
“The Global Campus has worked with the state before on other workforce projects, and our resources stand ready to support the Reimagine Arkansas Workforce Project,” said Tara Dryer, senior managing director at the Global Campus. “We are eager to help Arkansans get the training they need to thrive economically during and after the pandemic.”
The private, two-year Shorter College, a historically Black college and university (HBCU), was given $3.1 million and says it will “provide new and existing educational opportunities and training” for its students, who often come from lower-income communities and includes those who may have been imprisoned, paroled or on probation. Part of the funding will go toward Shorter’s Entrepreneurial Studies Program, which will help enhance the skills of those who pursue startup businesses in the state. According to school officials, it will be creating an innovation hub in the capital.
The two institutions will be working with iDatafy, a company that has created SmartResumes that help certify the credentials of applicants easily for employers.
How other states are planning to use the grants
The eight states that received the grant money will be utilizing funds in different ways, although all of them are focused on helping return Americans to the workforce. Higher education institutions will play a huge role in their development and reskilling. Here is how each individual state plans to use those funds:
Alabama ($17.8 million): The state is hoping to add “500,000 additional credentialed workers by 2025,” according to Gov. Kay Ivey through its program that will be fueled by the Alabama Community College System (ACCS) and the Alabama Technology Network (ATN). The plan has two tiers to help low-income individuals: one focused on disconnected or dislocated workers with basic skills deficiencies and that second that identifies those who have lost jobs but are employable.
California ($14.4 million): The state plans to further fund its High Road Training Partnership that assist individuals in getting new job skills, credentials and gaining employment. It has targeted five projects through its community colleges: Fresno Commercial Construction, California Line Clearance Tree Trimmers, Inland Empire Public Utilities, San Joaquin Valley Transit, and California Advanced Manufacturing.
Hawaii ($13.3 million): The University of Hawaii will deliver new education opportunities online while creating “statewide micro-credentials, badging, and licensing systems that are public and interoperable.” The state is also boosting its apprenticeship program and forging new pathways that include shorter-term opportunities for prospective students.
Michigan ($17.8 million): The state hopes to help 5,000 candidates gain the credentials necessary to pursue careers through its Michigan Learning & Education Advancement Program. One of the neat features beyond the online and hybrid options is that training will be developed and delivered by employers.
Nevada ($13.8 million): Displaced and underrepresented workers in Nevada will be able to get more online training opportunities through Project Sandi (Supporting and Advancing Nevada’s Dislocated Individuals) to boost completion of credentials, certificates and degrees. And it is going a step further by putting funds toward virtual and augmented reality training for prospective students interested in high-tech careers.
New York ($18 million): In developing short-term programs that will boost candidate pools and innovation in business, the state has identified four areas that will be improved through the grant money: boosting community colleges offerings throughout the states; digital transformation and exponent technologies for New York City residents; workshops for entrepreneurs; and requests for application from businesses that can offer expanded remote training.
Virginia ($17.7 million): Hampton University will head the state’s initiative, along with the Virginia Board of Workforce Development, to serve those who have been directly impacted by the pandemic or those whose jobs have simply become no longer needed. They are creating the Virginia Workforce Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center in hopes of spurring small business development.