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UWA awarded $2.5 million U.S. Dept. of Labor & Delta Regional Authority grant

UWA workforce group
Investment expected to drive rural workforce development efforts for 10 counties

The University of West Alabama has been awarded a $2.5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority to expand the impact of workforce development efforts through the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities initiative. UWA is one of only eight organizations in the five states across the Delta region to receive the award.

These grant funds awarded by the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, in collaboration with the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission, focus on rural areas with economic challenges. The initiative is designed to assist and support innovative and proactive efforts to address skills development and needs of employers and potential employees.

“These investments will support innovative job training programs that prepare workers with the skills needed to be placed in quality careers and supply employers with a highly skilled workforce,” said DRA Co-Chairman Christopher Caldwell.

“The Department of Labor’s decision to invest $2.5 million in the University of West Alabama is excellent news for the University and surrounding Black Belt region,” said U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). “This award will serve as an economic catalyst for job creation, business growth, and workforce development by providing students and employees with advancement opportunities. I look forward to the impact this grant will have on rural communities in and around West Alabama.”

UWA’s efforts to support workforce development have included a restructuring that aligns the Division of Economic and Workforce Development with the University’s mission and commitment to serving and supporting Alabama’s Black Belt region.

“We are immensely appreciative of this grant award from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority that will allow UWA the opportunity to expand our economic and workforce development efforts for a 10-county rural area that we serve,” said UWA President Ken Tucker.

“As a regional university whose mission includes improving the quality of life for the region, we have long seen education as an engine that drives economic and workforce development, and this nearly $2.5 million will have a transformative influence on the people of west Alabama and beyond for many years to come. We have an outstanding team in UWA’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development working daily to establish the partnerships and innovative initiatives that will strengthen the impact of this generous investment for our region and rural Alabama.”

“I’m excited to see the University of West Alabama receive this grant,” said Alabama Department of Labor Secretary, Fitzgerald Washington. “The University is doing great work in rural areas to help citizens develop valuable work skills and to help them enter and remain in the workforce. This will give them the opportunity to expand their reach and help even more people. We at the Alabama Department of Labor stand ready to assist in any way we can.”

The grant will fund a UWA Division of Economic and Workforce Development initiative known as LINCS: Leveraging Interconnected Networks for Change and Sustainability.  LINCS is designed to help develop a regional workforce based on industry-recognized standards, credentials and identified needs in order to strengthen the economy and skill levels in a 10-county west Alabama rural region.

“We are grateful for the many partners who have come together to assist UWA with the development of the LINCS proposal,” said Dr. Tina Jones, vice president of the UWA Division of Economic and Workforce Development. “By tapping into existing workforce systems that have a proven record of success, our goal is to address current barriers and gaps in the workforce pipeline.”

“We want to improve remote delivery and access to relevant workforce training in our rural areas, strengthen connections to employment opportunities, and yield a workforce ready to step into Alabama’s growing advanced manufacturing environment,” Jones said.

“We believe that offering customized, economic-responsive curricula designed around the needs of regional commerce through a University-industry partnership will help create a region rich in jobs, with better educated citizens earning more at their jobs, thereby improving lifestyles and bringing in more resources for our region and the State,” Jones explained.

The stated goal of the LINCS project is to increase advanced manufacturing employment skill sets in the underserved rural counties of west Alabama. The awarded grant will implement a three-pronged approach to address current barriers and gaps in the workforce pipeline in collaboration with other existing agencies and employer-driven organizations.  These include: 1) development of employer-driven curriculum and fast-track certificate programs; 2) recruitment and placement of new entrants into the workforce and promotion of incumbent workers to retain or advance current employment; and 3) establishment and expansion of rural apprenticeship initiatives.

LINCS will be designed to be a customized development program in advanced manufacturing skills and technologies in concert with existing partners, employers, and stakeholders.  The project will: 1) fill identified gaps by connecting all levels of education and skills with training and employment opportunities; 2) increase accessibility to training; 3) deliver a better prepared workforce; and 4) provide systemic change yielding a higher level of economic impact for the region.

 “This is collaborative effort built on partnerships,” Jones said.  “We are excited that UWA will be joined by major industry groups, and key essential workforce development groups throughout the region and Alabama to make LINCS a reality, including existing regional workforce development councils such as West Alabama Works, Central Alabama Works and Southwest Alabama Works.”

For more information on the LINCS initiative or other projects of UWA’s Division of Economic and Workforce Development, call 1-833-UWA-WORK.