FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Fayetteville City Council awarded the Fayetteville Public Library over $1.2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The money will go towards workforce training within the library’s Center for Innovation.
The training will cater to those looking for jobs in food services, technology and construction fields. Melissa Taylor, the manager of the Center for Innovation, said the training will help fill gaps in the workforce.
“Not everyone has the funds to upskill, to reskill, to experiment and explore a new career,” said Taylor.
With the growth of Northwest Arkansas, Taylor said with the needs of the people coming into the area and the needs of the people who are already here, the programs should impact the community in a significant way.
The food services program will offer certifications for frontline restaurant workers and managers of restaurants. Kitchen programming classes will also be provided. As far as skilled trades, training will be offered in plumbing, solar energy and electrical services. Most of the teaching will be done through virtual reality platforms and full-motion simulators.
A large chunk of the money awarded from the city will go towards staffing people to coordinate the programs. Another big undertaking will be creating a coding academy.
Taylor said when coming up with the proposal for the city council, it came down to creating accessibility.
“Our workforce is full of people who are working, who have kids, who may be pursuing other interests. They may not have the normal schedule where they can attend in-person classes on a regular basis,” said Taylor. “They might not have the funds to pay to go to a local college or a local coding boot camp. Breaking down the barriers to access, I think, is the first step in this in this progress process.”
According to senior economist Julie Trivitt with Heartland Forward, over the past five years in Northwest Arkansas, food service growth has gone up by 10%, construction growth by 25% and technology by 22%. The fields make up a larger share of the local economy than the state economy.
“It absolutely makes sense that local entities would be more focused on training in these industries because it’s likely going to be a bigger need and a gap that needs to be filled relative to what the state is likely to be focused on,” said Trivitt.
The need for those positions is growing as the workforce shrinks.
“Because of demographics, people are going to be retiring faster than new people are going to be entering the workforce. Childcare challenges are causing a lot of people to rethink or rearrange their labor force participation,” said Trivitt.
The programs will be open to the public but with a focus on targeted outreach. Taylor said officials with the library are still working out the details.