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The Northwest Arkansas Council and the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences (ACDS) are partners in a project that creates 200 apprenticeships, a program that includes classroom education and on-the-job training for a minimum of one year. The program includes training in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics as individuals start careers with area companies.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and representatives of more than 30 Northwest Arkansas companies were present for today’s announcement of the new apprenticeship program at the Council’s office in Springdale.

The announcement of the Northwest Arkansas apprenticeship program coincided with an announcement by Startup Junkie and RevUnit that they will launch a second Fuel accelerator program in 2020 to support growth-stage artificial intelligence and machine learning startups.

It was a huge day for tech in Northwest Arkansas in support of Governor Hutchinson’s goal of transitioning Arkansas into a global technology center where rising companies could invest in the state’s economy.

“After our successful apprenticeship accelerator in Little Rock, we’re pleased to help bring the apprenticeship message to employers in Northwest Arkansas,” said Bill Yoder, the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences executive director. “We at ACDS look forward to working with the Northwest Arkansas Council to launch the first set of information technology apprenticeship programs in the fourth quarter of this year.”

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined the Northwest Arkansas Council, the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences, the Arkansas Department of Commerce, Startup Junkie and RevUnit for today’s announcements related to attracting and retaining tech talent in Northwest Arkansas.

Led by Startup Junkie and RevUnit, the Fuel program will return in 2020, bringing a cohort of growth-stage companies with expertise in artificial intelligence and machine learning to Northwest Arkansas for a 12-week, enterprise-ready accelerator.

“The second cohort of Fuel will be industry agnostic, focusing on innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning that our key enterprise partners can leverage among various aspects of their business model,” said Taylor Hasley, Fuel program director at Startup Junkie. “I am excited about recruiting world-class talent to Northwest Arkansas, guiding the cohort to meaningful and lasting relationships with our regional enterprises, and ultimately, to retain that talent and create new jobs in our community.”

Fuel launched in 2018 with eight startups joining a 16-week program. The program helped its first cohort nurture relationships with Fortune 500 companies through feedback sessions, training, pilots and demos. Some of the eight companies put down roots in Northwest Arkansas to grow their businesses.

“We saw startups grow in terms of team size, investment, and their business activity in the Northwest Arkansas region,” said Haley Allgood, Startup Junkie executive director.

The apprenticeship program announced by the Council and ACDS will target high school and university students who graduate in the spring and adults who are making career changes to work in cybersecurity, website development or data analytics. ACDS and Arkansas Department of Commerce grants will pay for the training.

People who are interested in becoming apprentices in those three fields will be able to submit applications through the Northwest Arkansas Council’s new careers-focused website. The application will be on the website in October.

Joe Rollins, the Northwest Arkansas Council’s workforce development director, will lead the shared effort between state agencies, regional employers and education providers. He will continue to recruit employers to participate in the program, and there’s already strong interest. As apprentice applications are received, participating employers will review the submitted applications on the Careers NWA website. The employers will select the apprentices they want to hire.

This model represents shared action between education programs, employers and state agencies to create greater awareness of career opportunities in Northwest Arkansas. The program will strengthen the region’s ability to retain talent in key growth areas, Rollins said.

The apprenticeship accelerator provides the employers and apprentices with the shared benefit of cost-support of training, and it bridges the experience gap that many jobseekers encounter while trying to gain employment.

The program allows Northwest Arkansas employers to hire entry-level talent who can build a career based on the opportunity, and the employees can quickly become an asset to the Northwest Arkansas workforce and economy.

Being hired will create the opportunity to be involved in six-week training programs of industry-created and approved curriculum, Rollins said. The University of Arkansas Global Campus and NorthWest Arkansas Community College will be involved in the training programs.

The employers who attended today’s press conference participated in an apprenticeship accelerator workshop immediately afterwards.

The Fuel program is sponsored by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, RevUnit and Startup Junkie to foster more activity and innovation around the future of artificial intelligence and machine learning in Northwest Arkansas.

Applications are now open, and interviews begin later this year. Finalists for the second Fuel accelerator will be announced in January 2020.

Pictured at the top: Joe Rollins, the workforce development director for the Northwest Arkansas Council, talks with some of the business and education leaders who were interested in knowing more about 200 apprenticeships in Northwest Arkansas. The funding for the training is being provided by the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences and the Arkansas Department of Commerce.

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