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March 24, 2021
New AEDC initiative partners with colleges to promote desired industry skills

The Arkansas Department of Commerce today launched a new initiative to designate high-achieving state college workforce training programs that meet specific regional workforce needs in high-demand fields as “Centers of Excellence.” The initiative, implemented through the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), was recommended by several two-year colleges throughout the state earlier this year and is intended to strengthen partnerships between colleges and industry. 

To achieve designation as a Center of Excellence, participating colleges must undergo a rigorous certification process that will strengthen already existing partnerships between local colleges and industry. Colleges that attain this designation will not only create a brand that students will recognize as a trusted pathway to quality employment but will also signal to businesses that program graduates have the skills required of specific industries in their communities.

“When several two-year colleges from different regions across the state approached us about launching this initiative, we immediately saw the value,” Governor Asa Hutchinson said. “Employers deciding whether to expand or relocate their businesses almost always make their decisions based on access to talented, skilled labor. The initiative to designate qualifying two-year colleges as Centers of Excellence creates pathways for role-model institutions to affirmatively respond to local and regional workforce demand.”

To ensure that the evaluations are conducted objectively and measured against the highest standards, the Center of Excellence examination and assessment process will utilize criteria established by the Baldrige Excellence Framework, a trusted and comprehensive assessment standard created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

“This initiative benefits businesses, students, and educational institutions,” Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston said. “With the implementation of this initiative, colleges and workforce centers will receive recognition for their efforts to design and deliver training for a high-demand skill specific to industry needs; students will be able to identify which school is best equipped to provide training specific to their desired career path; and businesses seeking to expand or relocate will be able to determine which regions and communities will be best equipped to address their targeted workforce needs. This initiative is a win-win for all parties and will ultimately help drive our economy by better meeting industry demand.”

This initiative will be implemented in partnership with the Arkansas Institute for Performance Excellence (AIPE), a branch of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. The AIPE provides training and assessments for businesses that wish to improve their organizational performance. Annually, representatives of more than 60 businesses across the state participate in AIPE examiner training to learn how to identify key practices for business excellence.

“At the request of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the recommending two-year institutions, we were happy to make available concepts from the nationally recognized Baldrige Excellence Framework,” Trish Villines, Executive Director of the Arkansas Institute for Performance Excellence said. “The Framework is a proven tool in assessing the quality of processes, programs, and businesses. We are pleased to partner in the assessment process for designating Centers of Excellence.” 

The Center of Excellence designation process will require that applying colleges align with program credentials required by the Department of Commerce Office of Skills Development under Act 1079. Each institution that seeks designation as a Center of Excellence must also show proof of outstanding ongoing workforce training unique to the industry needs of its community. Colleges that apply will be evaluated by independent industry specialists, a panel of public- and private-sector manufacturing, workforce, and business specialists, and the Department of Commerce. 

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