Energy group launches apprenticeship program with $2 million state grant

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,170 views 

The educational affiliate of Little Rock-based Arkansas Advanced Energy Association has established an apprenticeship program and hired a director of workforce development, according to a Wednesday (Jan. 4) news release. The program is expected to reduce employer training costs and help develop the energy industry workforce.

The Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation (AAEF) will use a four-year, $2 million grant from the Office of Skills Development, a division of the Arkansas Department of Commerce, for the program. The grant was announced in October.

Also, the foundation has hired April Ambrose as the director of workforce development for the program. She started in the new role on Jan. 1.

“We look forward to seeing advanced energy industry employers benefit from this partnership, which will help offset their training costs while providing talent pool access to address the industry’s significant growth,” said Cody Waits, director of the Office of Skills Development. “Initially developed with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, this concept is a perfect fit to replicate with AAEF as a best practice to support and work directly with industry experts, which will create jobs and pipelines of talent for the sector all while not growing government.”

According to the release, the demand is high for advanced energy and sustainability industry jobs, but the labor pool of skilled workers is still being developed to meet the needs. The new apprenticeship program, in partnership with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, is designed to help fill the labor demand gap. On-the-job training and apprenticeships are expensive and not all companies can afford to train the workforce as labor demand rises.

Ambrose will lead the apprenticeship program and work with existing and potential members of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Association interested in the program. She started working in sustainability as an undergraduate student at Hendrix College. In 2004, she began to focus on developing the green jobs workforce in Arkansas and created the Arkansas Earth Day Foundation. While with Entegrity, she helped to grow its workforce from two to 130 employees.

“This program allows us to ‘home-grow’ diverse, skills-specific candidates for Arkansas’ emerging sustainability and clean energy companies, while providing high-paying, quality careers with lasting education and accreditations for these workers,” Ambrose said.

The Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation has worked with Entegrity to establish the apprenticeship program. “As the pilot employer in this program, Entegrity has already been providing this level of education to their employees and are elated to be recognized and supported by the state for growing their business in this way,” Ambrose added.

“The members we have across the advanced energy sector are desperate for local talent to address their expanding labor needs as a result of industry growth,” said AAEF Executive Director Lauren Waldrip. “After months facilitating this partnership, we are appreciative of the resources OSD has allocated to enable a solution that will add value to our industry and the state as a whole.”

The program allows participating employers to access money for training expenses, while the foundation will cover overhead and administrative costs, and provide project management and access to prospective workers. Waldrip noted that a limit on the number of participating employers has yet to be set.

Lonnie Emard, apprenticeship director at Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, worked with Waldrip and staff to establish the program.

“At ACDS, we’ve always known that our proven model for registered apprenticeship would be repeatable for another industry sector and a new set of occupations,” Emard said. “The support structure now in place at AAEF, with funding from OSD, helps eliminate every barrier for employers to get started so they can focus on developing and retaining advanced energy talent to support their growth and success.”