Two workforce development grants totaling more than $110,000 from the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet to the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith are to fund programs designed to create career paths at the university for in-demand jobs locally and across the state.
The planning grants will fund an Automation Academy and a Data Analytics Academy, with the potential for an additional $2 million in funding per grant. The two industry-driven programs were developed in partnership with local employers and educators to address current and emerging skills gaps in the region’s workforce. A skills gap refers to a career field with a disparity between preferred qualifications of employers and the actual qualifications of employees seeking jobs in the field
“Skill gaps in the workforce can be threatening to an area’s economic well-being,” said Dr. Paul Beran, UAFS chancellor. “As one of the main drivers of economic development in the greater Fort Smith region, UAFS has prioritized partnering with local institutions to ensure we are filling the skills gaps of the area and creating more opportunity for the residents in our service area.”
STUDENT AND BUSINESS CONNECTIONS
Both academies offer students flexible paths to earn degrees or certifications, with opportunities to earn a certificate of proficiency, technical certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree. High school students can also enter the programs and earn concurrent credit to provide an easy transition to college following graduation.
UAFS will offer the programs in collaboration with local businesses and organizations including Walmart, Baldor Electric Co., Pernod Ricard USA, the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, Hickory Springs Manufacturing Co., and the Western Arkansas Workforce Development Board, in addition to several area public schools. Industry partners will assist the university in student recruitment and engagement, business partner recruitment and curriculum design.
“The 188th has always had deep roots in the western Arkansas community, and we are looking forward to collaborating with UAFS as the university responds to the workforce needs of the 188th,” said Col. Bobbi Doorenbos, commander of the 188th Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard. “Residents, and 188th members alike, will certainly benefit from this partnership.”
The Automation Academy is geared to prepare students for manufacturing careers in automation and robotics. To help introduce students to manufacturing career fields, UAFS will host two-week summer camps for students entering their senior year of high school. Through these camps, students will take industry tours, talk to workers in the students’ areas of interest, and learn about career opportunities in the manufacturing field.
Additionally, UAFS will coordinate mentorships between students and successful manufacturing professionals to help students apply their studies to a career and build connections in the community.
The Data Analytics Academy will educate students for careers in data analytics, the science of reviewing data to influence decision-making within an organization, oftentimes referred to as Big Data. Students trained in data analytics can enter a range of fields, including information technologies, manufacturing and retail.
With both programs, the university will collaborate with area schools including Charleston, Fort Smith, Greenwood, and Van Buren Public Schools to identify, recruit and help educate students. The university will also collaborate with the Western Arkansas Education Service Cooperative.
Both programs will be open to traditional and non-traditional students, according to Dr. Ken Warden, dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology.
“This is an all-inclusive program in which students from all walks of life can participate,” Warden said. “We are excited to partner with local industry and educational institutions to create a pipeline for individuals to move seamlessly from education to rewarding careers in challenging, high-demand fields. We anticipate this process will make a huge impact on the development of talent in our workforce locally and across the state.”