September 28, 2023

The Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation (AAEF) officially launched a new apprenticeship program enabled through a $2 million, four-year grant from the Arkansas Department of Commerce Office of Skills Development (OSD). April Ambrose will be the new director of Workforce Development for the program.

“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.”

There is a high demand for advanced energy and sustainability industry specialized jobs, though the pool of skilled workers is still being developed to meet needs. AAEF’s apprenticeship program, in partnership with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (ACDS), is designed to bridge the skills gap between employers and talent in Arkansas for these occupations. On-the-job training and apprenticeships are expensive and not all companies are able to shoulder the costs required to train the workforce as industry labor needs grow.

Ambrose began working in sustainability during her undergraduate career at Hendrix College. She has been interested in focusing on developing the green jobs workforce in Arkansas since 2004, when she created the Arkansas Earth Day Foundation. She also saw this need first hand during her time at Entegrity where she helped grow the company from two to 130 employees. Ambrose will work to coordinate with existing and potential AAEA members interested in benefitting from the program.

“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,” said Ambrose.

After the grant was announced in October, AAEF spent the next few months in conversation with AAEA member, Entegrity, working to establish the initial apprenticeship.

“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 said.

The Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) is not new – it already exists through the OSD – but AAEF’s position as a sponsor is unique due to the focus on the sustainability and advanced energy industry and the access it provides to AAEA’s membership as employers.

“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 of 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.”

AAEF’s role as sponsor will effectively be to act as “middle-men” by alleviating the burden and barriers an individual company might encounter in order to become a sponsor itself. The program also allows participating employers to access funding for training expenses. AAEF will assume overhead and admin costs, provide project management of the program, as well as access to a willing talent pool. This will instead allow the apprenticeship company to simply focus on training in conjunction with a number of local participating training partners.

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