ACDS Touts ReSkill Program for Pandemic-Affected Arkansans

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The Arkansas Center for Data Sciences launched a program last month for free information technology training and existing apprenticeships to Arkansans who need work because of COVID-19.

The ACDS has partnered with the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, Office of Skills Development and Professional and Workforce Development at the University of Arkansas on the program, called ReSkill Arkansas. It is funded by $750,000 in CARES Act money that will be used to provide the training for free.

“The ultimate goal is to get these folks employed and really focus on how we give them the resources and tools to help them hopefully land a job,” Ashley French, director of talent acquisition for the ACDS, told Arkansas Business. The ACDS will be recruiting ReSkill candidates over a six- to nine-month period.

Employers that have struggled to find workers can also benefit from the program. Companies are looking to fill positions in web development, data analytics, cybersecurity and information technology in general. 

“Really, every company is a technology company today, right?” said Lonnie Emard, apprenticeship director for ACDS. “In our profession, which I’ve been a part of for 37 years, there’s been an age-old kind of belief that you had to have a four-year degree in computer science, or that you needed to have spent time, three to five years, in the field working. Everybody would love to hire that person. Well, guess what? They’re not out there in Arkansas. They’re not out there anywhere in the country.” 

But the value of apprenticeships isn’t in just filling open positions. French said employers should “think less about what skills that person has today and more about their potential and … the long-term investment you receive when you help develop and enhance someone’s skills and abilities. There’s tons of figures out there. You end up increasing employee engagement, and you also have even more control” over what kind of training they receive.

Retention of an apprentice in an organization is 84%, Emard said, citing a national study that determined, of apprentices who completed their apprenticeships of one to three years, how many remained at the same organization for at least two years following the completion of their apprenticeship.

He also said employers can benefit from cost savings as the state covers either 100% of an apprentice’s training or 75%, if the apprenticeship is in cybersecurity.

In addition, Emard said, employers can reach a larger and more diverse candidate pool by offering apprenticeships through the ACDS. French added that the pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities and women, but programs like ReSkill can reach those populations as well as rural populations that don’t have the same exposure to the IT profession as their urban counterparts.

Since Nov. 1, 252 candidates have applied and about 140 are in the process of applying. The ACDS would like 1,000 people to apply by May. And it expects to fill about 300 jobs through ReSkill.

The ReSkill process begins with candidates taking a free assessment that gauges their aptitude with critical thinking questions and gauges their interest in different IT career paths. That assessment is used to place them in pre-apprenticeship courses. 

The five courses available are: Introduction to PC Security, Introduction to Networking, Introduction to Database Development, Basic CompTIA A and Creating Web Pages. ReSkill candidates also receive help with their resumes and preparing for job interviews.

Candidates can then apply for the apprenticeships that are available in 13 occupations with about 40 employers partners. Those companies have hired more than 100 apprentices in the last 12 months. Companies that have had more than one apprentice placed include Arvest Bank and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The ACDS is seeking another 30-50 employer partners. Companies wanting to learn more about the benefits of hiring for their tech positions via ACDS apprenticeships can attend this webinar at 10 a.m. Dec. 16 or contact Emard at admin@acds.co.