MALVERN, AR -- College of the Ouachitas (COTO) has announced it will receive nearly half a million dollars from a Regional Workforce Continuation Grant. Funds will be awarded monthly over the next two years. The college was the recipient of the first $500k in 2016.
College of the Ouachitas was awarded $443,297.18 -- 100 percent of the funds requested. Since the inception of the High School Pre-Apprenticeship Career Pathway program over 50 students have graduated with a Certificate of Proficiency from the College before graduating high school at no cost. The first year cohort of students earned a combined $229,466.00 in their first year of employment with an average annual income of $25,9465.57.
Forbes Magazine reported that 53% of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years old or older and 18.6% were between the ages of 55 and 64. In the case of electricians, more than 60% of the workers are 45 years of age or older and 50% are over the age of 55. This translates to a large portion of electricians aging out of the trade within the next 10 years. In Arkansas, there are entire counties and groups of counties without a licensed Master Plumber and the situation is becoming increasingly dire.
To address this issue College of the Ouachitas, along with its apprenticeship training partner, Arkansas Construction Education Foundation (ACEF), have developed a program that allows high school seniors the opportunity to “jump start” their journey to a successful career in their areas. The program has developed a meaningful career pathway for those interested in the apprenticeship trades, specifically as an electrician or plumber. The program has demonstrated the effectiveness of strategic partnerships among a community college, a registered apprenticeship training partner, service area high schools, and area employers.
The Pre-Apprenticeship program is constructed to identify potential participants as early as the 10th grade year. Once identified, potential candidates and their parents will be counselled regarding options available to them and the benefits of our apprenticeship program. During their senior year eligible participants will be able to take transferable college classes that count towards a COTO Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree in Apprenticeship Arts. All “academic” classes will be taught by properly credentialed faculty approved by COTO. In addition, participants will attend class one night a week taught by a journeyperson, approved by ACEF, within the specific trade. Students will also attend “lab” classes 12 times during the year.
At the end of the year one, apprenticeship course participants will be tested and credit for a level one apprentice will be given to those students successfully meeting satisfactory performance requirements. Upon high school graduation these new level one completers will be interviewed for hire/sponsorship by our employer partners. Those selected will be eligible to continue in the program for the remaining three/four years provided the student/employee meets all conditions for continued employment and makes satisfactory progress academically. Each student will also receive a Certificate of Proficiency for each year of program completion. Upon successful completion of the program, three years after graduation, participants will be prepared for certification as a journeyman electrician or plumber.
A new cohort of students will be added each year of the program. The program is designed to add one electrical and one plumbing apprenticeship program cohort each year with a goal of 25 participants in each of the cohorts. In the last 2 years, nineteen different high schools have had students participate in the program. Students traveling over 30 miles round trip can apply for gas reimbursement paid by grant funding to help with travel expenses. Each student is awarded a hand tool kit after graduation that prepares the student for hiring required by most employers.
The COTO/ACEF grant-writing team consisted of Pat Simms, Matthew Cummings, Kathy Fulks, and Donnie King. The College is appreciative of the community partners who have collaborated on this multi-year process to fill the workforce gap and College of the Ouachitas looks forward to continued success with the grant proceeds. For more information about the program, contact Matt Cummings at 501-332-0253 or mcummings [at] coto.edu.