March 29, 2018
Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative expanding technical educational training opportunities
Kentucky Press News Service
FRANKFORT – Projects funded by the $100 million KENTUCKY WORK READY SKILLS INITIATIVE (KWRSI) — and $150 million in locally matched funds — are off to a fast start in the state. Since January 2017, 40 projects have begun, with many already training students for high-demand technology jobs, according to a state news release.
“Kentucky is advancing rapidly in our mission to become America’s center for engineering and manufacturing excellence, and the Work Ready Skills Initiative is playing a significant role,” Gov. Matt Bevin said in a statement. “The innovative KWRSI collaborations between local communities, private sector employers, and educational institutions will be truly transformational. We are excited to continue this strong momentum in developing Kentucky’s workforce for the high-skills jobs of today and tomorrow.”
The initiative infuses resources to expand career and technical education facilities and upgrade equipment in schools through local partnerships between private industry and educational institutions.
The 40 projects were selected during two rounds of competition in 2016 and 2017. The locally driven projects are tailored to the workforce and industry needs of individual areas and will provide more than 30,000 new technical training seats annually across the state.
“Since we awarded the first KENTUCKY WORK READY SKILLS INITIATIVE projects a year ago, the pace of activity across Kentucky in schools, training centers, and business and industry has been remarkable. It is astounding how quickly the KWRSI investment in training is making a difference in preparing Kentuckians for careers in high-demand technology fields,” said Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner. “The ideas for all the KWRSI projects are locally driven by partnerships of employers, educators, elected officials and local leaders. The ripple effect we are seeing in communities is exactly what we were hoping for when we envisioned this initiative, and this is just the beginning.”
The initiative was passed and funded by the 2016 General Assembly and is administered by the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet with support from the Cabinet for Economic Development.
Launched in July 2016, KWRSI is aimed at developing a highly trained, modernized workforce to meet the needs of employers and promote sustainable incomes for Kentuckians.
Through the initiative, Kentucky has awarded $100 million in statewide bonds to train Kentuckians in the state’s top five growth sectors — advanced manufacturing, business services and information technology (IT), construction trades, healthcare and transportation and logistics.
Eric Keeling, principal at Warren County Area Technology Center, said their $557,726 KWRSI grant has already made an impact on their program.
“We’ve created a chain reaction. Because of the new equipment, we have been able to step up to advanced robotics, machining, welding and automotive, and have a new computer lab. Companies are seeing the new equipment and the quality of the program, and they are donating equipment and starting more apprenticeships. The grant has been a godsend for our students,” Keeling said in a news release. “The award has reinforced a culture of excellence, respect, integrity, character, commitment and leadership in our students and program.”
In Northern Kentucky, the Freestore Foodbank is using its $267,000 KWRSI award to train and certify unemployed and underemployed adults in the warehousing and logistics field through its free, 10-week LIFT the TriState program. The program couples hands-on training with classroom curriculum at Gateway Community and Technical College (GCTC) so that students graduate with credentials in logistics, power equipment, forklift, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
All graduates from the project’s first class have secured jobs with pay starting between $14-$17 per hour plus full benefits. A second class has recently graduated.
“The WORK READY SKILLS INITIATIVE that Gov. Bevin promoted through these grants really allowed us to jump start the LIFT the TriState program to where it is right now. We would not have been able to provide the equipment and the racking system for our students to be able to get real hands-on experience in the logistics area without this funding,” said Kurt Reiber, president and CEO of Freestore Foodbank.
LIFT the TriState student Sheba Roberson, who is in the second class of trainees, was certified in forklift in just a few weeks even though she cannot drive a car. The program has boosted her self-confidence. “I feel I can do anything as long as I have the right support and help,” she said. “I love the hands-on experience that we get from the teachers. Everything we do brings me a step closer to my goal of having a career.”
The Brighton Center in Newport is using its $227,213 KWRSI grant to upgrade equipment to train students for healthcare, and business and computer technologies careers.
“Kentucky Work Ready has been an incredible opportunity for us to actually start a new skill and enhance our current skills in medical assisting and business and computer technology,” said Talia Frye, Brighton Center’s Center for Employment Training’s (CET) director of Workforce Innovation.
For student Rachael Schleper, who is training for a position in health technology and administration, preparing for a new career has been a family endeavor. Schleper accompanied her 21-year-old son to the Kentucky Career Center where they toured Brighton’s Center CET, and they both enrolled in classes.
“I just love it. I didn’t realize how many opportunities were available for adults that have children and want to brush up on their skills and need an opportunity because they don’t have skills for the workplace today,” Schleper said. “They focus on your career but also your mental health. They are with you every step of the way. They want to support you in every area of your life, not just learning a new skill and I really appreciate that. I’m glad I found it.”
Frye said the KWRSI grant is meeting a rapidly growing workforce demand in the healthcare field.
“In our region, healthcare is so important to the vitality of our community. In fact, the largest employer in Northern Kentucky is St. Elizabeth Healthcare. They employ over 8,000 people who go to work every day,” Frye said. “Medical assisting is the second most in-demand occupation in northern Kentucky. Medical assisting meets a great occupational demand in our region and it is the start of a great pathway because you can stack your education and credentials to move farther along and that’s important.”
Allen County Career and Technical Center received a $328,700 KWRSI grant to purchase equipment for the school’s automotive, IT, welding, industrial maintenance and nursing programs. “The grant means that we can prepare students for the workforce. Training on new equipment gives them a step up when they go to job interviews. It gives them an advantage when they are job hunting. New equipment prepares them for the jobs of today because they are using the same equipment in high school as the modern equipment in manufacturing jobs,” said Brian Carter, assistant superintendent of operations at Allen County Schools.
Because of the grant, the career and technical center is now offering night classes for certified nursing assistant (CNA) credentials for the adults.
“We are looking forward to purchasing the rest of our equipment and seeing the full force of this grant in action,” said Carter.
For more information about the program and the projects, visit the Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative’s webpage on the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development website: educationcabinet.ky.gov.