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UWA awarded $2.5 million grant to drive workforce development

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.  “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 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.”

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.

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.   

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.

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

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, October 30 issue of the Demopolis Times.)