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A state program that’s building the training pipeline for information technology talent is ramping up its focus on Northwest Arkansas. Local companies in every industry can learn more about how they can benefit at an upcoming luncheon.

The NWA Employer IT Talent Accelerator is set for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, March 2, at the Supply Chain Hall of Fame in Rogers. Attendees will hear about the nonprofit Arkansas Center for Data Sciences’ apprenticeship programs and how they can address tech challenges for employers ranging from a corner store to a major corporation.

“We’re talking about the IT profession, which runs across every sector,” said Lonnie Emard, apprenticeship director for the nonprofit. “We’re leading the country in IT apprenticeships, and Northwest Arkansas is playing a big part in it.”

Apprenticeships work by pairing employees who want to gain experience or develop a new area of expertise with more specialized peers in the workplace, along with some classwork and other support.

ACDS covers the cost of this kind of training and has helped more than 100 employers in the state, around a third of which are in NWA, set up apprenticeship systems. It’s also a frequent partner of the Northwest Arkansas Council, which supports apprenticeships in a variety of professions in a similar way.

“A lot of people out there still think an apprenticeship only applies to carpenters or electricians or plumbers,” Emard said. But apprenticing has allowed hundreds of non-traditional workers, such as those who don’t have a bachelor’s degree in IT, to fill the perpetual need for computer services while advancing their own careers.

“We’ve added so much to the capacity of the IT profession,” Emard said.

The center has been around for several years, but a recent Walton Family Foundation grant is allowing it to give special attention to Northwest Arkansas. March’s meeting is the first of several quarterly sessions in the region.

Its goal is to answer attendees’ every question and ultimately bump up the number of employers involved. It’ll also feature panelists from Simmons Foods, Walmart, DataScout and the Scott Family Amazeum to talk about their involvement with ACDS and its results.

“We work closely with the Arkansas Center for Data Sciences and are proud to support their renewed focus on the region,” said G.B. Cazes, the Council’s IT workforce development specialist. “With programs like this one, the region can fill thousands of open, well-paid jobs and cement Northwest Arkansas’ reputation as the best place to train tomorrow’s IT workforce.”

Attendance is free; register online.

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