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Arkansas Coding Academy Aims to Provide Affordable Tech Education

4 min read

As more people steer away from a traditional, costly, four-year college program, many companies have unfilled positions due to lack of qualified applicants. But, in some industries, alternatives to college provide enough training for a new career.

The Arkansas Coding Academy, which kicks off on Aug. 8, is aiming to provide one of those alternatives through intensive boot camps, online classes and part-time night classes.

A collaborative effort between the University of Central Arkansas, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and many area business partners, the Arkansas Coding Academy is designed to create a talent pipeline from the classroom to the workforce, according to Shelley Mehl, associate vice president of outreach & community engagement at UCA.

The inaugural class offering is a three-month boot camp in Android development.

Mehl called the boot camp “very intensive, focused training” and said that by the conclusion of the program, graduates will be ready to enter jobs in the industry.

She said that at Metova, one of the partner companies of the academy, a starting salary could range from $55,000-$70,000.

The $6,000 boot camp will be structured similarly to a job, with classes and training Monday-Friday from 9-5.

“They’ll be able to create a portfolio of apps and have some on-the-job training where they can actually work with Metova and see how things are done,” Mehl said. “They’re going to be taught by developers and other instructors – industry professionals who are already successful in this area.”

Some scholarships are available through the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, and students who successfully complete the program will keep the laptop they receive as part of tuition.

The academy does not yet have a director. Mehl said the goal is for there to be three, three-month boot camps offered during the upcoming school year in addition to various online and part-time evening courses.

“The creating of the Arkansas Coding Academy has really been driven by this need of creating a pipeline of talent in our area,” Mehl said. “The thing about this model is we’re trying to be flexible and responsive – as things change, we can gear up quickly to respond to those changing needs.”

Mehl said boot camps would be offered consecutively, not simultaneously, due to space limitations on the UCA campus. Following the initial Android development program, they are considering offering boot camps in cyber security, Java and iOS development.

“Data security is one we’re going to look at developing hopefully in a way that would cross platforms so that it wouldn’t be too industry specific,” Mehl said.

Students at the academy do not need a college degree to participate, but rather “an aptitude for technical skills.”

“We’ll have them take some aptitude tests, but really we’re going to sit down with each person and make sure that they understand what they’re getting into because it is pretty intensive, but also making sure we’re finding the right fit for them – matching them with the right industry and the right business partner,” Mehl said. “It’s going to be very customized.”

Some of the academy’s partners include Acxiom, JB Hunt, Innovate Arkansas and Ensono. A complete list is available on the website.

One of the key partners is software development company Metova, Mehl said. A developer from the organization will be teaching the first boot camp.

Metova’s chief revenue officer Josh Smith, who has been involved since conversations about the academy began in December 2015, said that he has seen a general shortage of talent available in the job market.

“Demand is a lot higher than the computer science programs are putting out right now,” Smith said. “In reality, you don’t have to be a computer science major to be able to code. It’s great for those who maybe pursued a business, history or arts degree but have a technical aptitude.”

He said that Metova has helped to draft some of the initial course offerings and that the company is “more than happy to be involved and get it up and running.”

Although these boot camps will not provide the depth of education that someone who has gone through a four-year program has, Smith said that depth is not vital for a career in the industry.

“The Arkansas technology community as a whole has a shortage,” Smith said.

The Arkansas Coding Academy is currently accepting inquiries to participate through its website. Graduates will receive a completion certificate stating what they have learned.  

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