Grant money helps UA Global Campus continue focus on IT skills gap

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 420 views 

The University of Arkansas Global Campus began an initiative three years ago to fill the skills gaps in the region by offering information technology (IT) readiness classes in a partnership with RevUnit, Walmart and J.B. Hunt Transport Services.

The program has been financially supported with state grants, and the college announced Wednesday (July 11) the receipt of its third grant ($923,842) from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education. The money allows the college to expand its IT readiness program and train more workers in the region.

“Our network of industry experts and educational partners have played a vital role in the continuation and growth of the IT Readiness Program,” said Tara Dryer, director of training, corporate development and academic outreach. “This third grant empowers the Global Campus to add new information technology training to our current program line-up.”

The next round of classes begin in late August. The grants allow the Global Campus to offer IT training at discounted rates for Arkansans. This helps area job-seekers and employees afford to gain new IT skills and provides employers with more job-ready candidates.

Dryer said the corporate partners continue to provide hands-on instruction for the students in the program. She said more than 40 people have earned entry-level certificates and another 22 are completing certifications this summer. More than 70 people have participated in the upskill workshops that focused on user experience as well as technical leadership training.

When the program was first announced in 2015, Mike Harvey, chief operating officer for the Northwest Arkansas Council, told Talk Business & Politics there were roughly 380 new IT-related jobs created in the region each year.

The region’s tech sector already employs about 8,000 workers and continues to grow as companies such as Tyson Foods is adding a tech hub in Springdale, J.B. Hunt is hiring up to 1,000 tech workers for its new technology center under construction in Lowell and CaseStack of Fayetteville created a technology branch.

Northwest Arkansas Council leaders on Tuesday outlined a new strategic plan which continues to focus on growing and recruiting tech talent in the region. Harvey said then the skills gaps for technology jobs will likely restrain the region’s growth unless more work is done, which is why the Council made it a priority.

The Global Campus is scheduling entry-level classes that offer certificates in back-end, front-end, Java and mobile development. The next application deadline is Aug. 10, with classes starting Aug. 20.

Since the program began in 2015, Dryer said the Global Campus has received two other grants to help with funding. The first was a Regional Workforce Planning grant of $48,954 in 2015. A second grant from Department of Higher Ed was received in 2016 totaling $851,062. This grant allowed the college to add more advanced training workshops,

Online enrollment is also open for advanced workshops, including the Amazon Web Services Certification Program, starting July 17, and Introduction to Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence, starting July 31.

Dryer said the new programming under the latest grant will be based on workforce needs and skills gaps identified in the region from entities such as corporate partners, Northwest Arkansas Council and civic leaders.

She said IT Readiness partners include: Acxiom, CaseStack, Collective Bias, DataScout, Field Agent, Iberia Bank, J.B. Hunt, Lofty Labs, Metova Inc., NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Northwest Arkansas Council, Northwest Technical Institute, RevUnit, Rockfish, Rogers Public Schools, Saatchi & Saatchi X, Springdale Public Schools, Startup Junkie, Tata Consultancy Services, Walmart Inc. and WhyteSpyder.

“Their efforts and support provide the opportunity for us to deliver high-quality training that meets the workforce needs of Northwest Arkansas,” Dryer said.