Upskill NWA Launches to Create Career Opportunities for Low-Income Workers
LAST UPDATED • July 15th, 2021
LAST UPDATED • July 15th, 2021
Upskill NWA—a new organization that will expand the local workforce for high demand industries—is launching in Northwest Arkansas to provide a path to higher wage jobs for lower income families. Excellerate Foundation and Walton Family Foundation are providing $3M for a three-year roll out phase.
“Roughly two-thirds of the jobs in Northwest Arkansas pay $50,000 or less,” said Jeff Webster, President / CEO of Excellerate Foundation. “That is approximately 150,000 people that are employed but do not have the income necessary to support living in a region where affordable housing, health care, and child care are hard to come by.”
Excellerate will incubate Upskill NWA within the Foundation, offering day-to-day guidance and support to its staff and operations, until it is ready to spin out into its own 501(c)(3) organization at the end of the roll out phase. The project is based on an upskilling model that was first developed in Texas.
“Project QUEST of San Antonio has proven that its model increases the annual income of participants dramatically on an ongoing basis while providing San Antonio with a 19:1 return on its investment,” said Webster. “Its 25 years of success has led to the model’s replication in four other areas of Texas and several other states. Now we’re bringing it to Northwest Arkansas.”
"Building an inclusive community means everyone who calls Northwest Arkansas home benefits from the successes and opportunities the region has to offer," said Yee-Lin Lai, Walton Family Foundation senior program officer. "Upskill NWA will provide students and workers the skills they need to create pathways to high-potential, in-demand careers."
While sectors such as manufacturing or IT will be added later, the roll out phase will focus on healthcare, one of the most rapidly growing industries.
“The region’s healthcare sector posted 5,000 job openings in the past 12 months, and the need will only grow as Northwest Arkansas continues to become a healthcare destination,” says Larry Shackleford, president and CEO of Washington Regional Medical System, one of the six local health systems that are collaborating on Upskill NWA.
With the first group of 100 participants launching in January 2022, Upskill NWA will provide assistance with tuition, supplies, and fees, as well as connect participants to additional wraparound services (e.g. rental assistance, child care, transportation, etc.) that will allow regular class attendance. “Career Navigators” will help keep participants on track while helping them develop skills such as persistence, time management, and financial literacy.
“A very large portion of the region’s workforce could benefit from additional education and industry-recognized licensure and certification,” says Dr. Evelyn Jorgenson, president of Northwest Arkansas Community College, which is one of Upskill NWA’s education partners, along with Northwest Technical Institute and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “We will target nontraditional students who would not usually have access to or the support to take advantage of such training and credentialing.”
Upskill NWA will measure its success through increased education and income for its participants, an expanded and stable workforce for employers, a significant return on investment for the community, and financial sustainability for the organization itself.
“We’ve seen the incredible impact this model has had in many communities around the country,” said Webster. “The roll out phase will make a very strong case for ongoing employer, governmental, and philanthropic support.”
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