Work Ready Skills Initiative

Work Ready Skills Initiative

School districts get “work ready”
 
Kentucky School Advocate
April 2017
 
By Madelynn Coldiron
Staff writer
The state Education and Workforce Cabinet launched its Work Ready Skills Initiative in July 2016, but some schools districts that will benefit from it had been on standby at the launch pad years before the grant program was even conceived.
 
Students gather around a laptop for their work in an industrial maintenance class
at Pulaski County Area Technology Center. The industrial maintenance program
will get a big upgrade in a new building funded with a Work Ready Skills grant.
(Photo courtesy of Pulaski County Schools) 

“The timing could not have been better,” Jessamine County Schools Superintendent Kathy Fields said. The district’s award of a $760,000 Work Ready grant will help it fulfill a need the district and community identified more than three years ago for training students in advanced manufacturing.

“In 2013 we began a strategic vision process for Jessamine County,” Fields explained. “During that process, we invited the community in and we asked, ‘What is it that you need Jessamine County schools to do to make Jessamine County in itself a better place to live?’

“One of the things that was very, very obvious was the fact that we had businesses in our community that did not have an adequate employee base because we were not providing the opportunities to train employees. And as a result of that, they were going outside our community to get employees.”

The conversations prompted the district to begin looking at its career and technical program differently, she said, and “one of our biggest deficits was in the area of advanced manufacturing.”

The problem was, the district didn’t have the dedicated space, a teacher trained in that field or the equipment, Fields said. The grant will change all that, paving the way for transforming an old agriculture mechanics area at West Jessamine High School to accommodate an advanced manufacturing pathway, Fields said, “so that our students will have the adequate certification and training needed to leave as a student and go directly into the manufacturing companies here in Jessamine County.”
Jessamine County Schools is one of 10 public school districts to be the lead partner in the first batch of 25 Work Ready Skills Initiative grants. Other partners in the winning projects range from area technology centers or community colleges to local manufacturers and economic development authorities.

High school students still benefit from projects that go to lead entities other than school districts; in fact, to qualify for a Work Ready Skills grant, applicants had to be a regional partnership that includes a private-sector employer, a public high school or district and a postsecondary education institution.

The projects also encompass adult learners through area technology centers and other providers. Even the revamped Jessamine County facility will be open in the evenings to GED students ages 18 to 64 and to current manufacturing workers whose employers send them for additional training, said Mary Newton, the district’s director of adult education.

GED students would still get core classes at the district’s learning center, but, similar to a dual-credit program, “we would be incorporating some of the advanced manufacturing math skills into their GED classes,” Newton said.

Pulaski County’s partnership
First, Pulaski County Schools transformed a grocery store building into its area technology center; with the $3.8 million Work Ready Skills grant to its lead partner, Somerset Community College, the strip mall next to the ATC, plus space at the college, will be refurbished and equipped for teaching advanced and computerized manufacturing, drone technology, 3D printing, injection molding and more. The ATC’s new wing also will accommodate a new industrial maintenance program, Pulaski County Schools Superintendent Steve Butcher said.

He said the expansion will make room for some general education classes as well. “What we hope to do is do dual credits through that and also help with trying to keep the transportation down. It gives them more time in the building to do the things they really want to do,” he said.

Butcher said he has reached out to neighboring school districts about sending their students to the new facility for programs those districts don’t offer.

“We’d like to be a regional hub,” he said. “I feel like this is just the beginning. I think we’re going to get started here, but I think eventually we’re going to try to make our programs bigger than what they are now, and add other programs. Because we’ve got to keep up with workforce development and that’s always a changing thing.”

Corbin Independent’s on-demand learning
It wasn’t an achievement gap that Corbin Independent district leaders were looking at when they put together the district’s application with its partners for a Work Ready Skills grant – it was a gap between career training in the schools and jobs available in the community.

“When we started looking at all the industry sectors, when we met with actual business and industry providers, we learned that they have jobs, but it’s not where the rubber hits the road or they’re not getting that traction,” said Mark Daniels, Corbin’s director of support services. “We are making kids college and career ready, but we’re missing that piece where we can provide that training right there so these youth and adults can actually go out and enter the workforce to fulfill jobs that there’s a demand for, immediately.”

Using its $382,000 Work Ready Skills grant, the district and its plethora of community and business partners (which include the Williamsburg Independent and Whitley County school systems, and the Corbin Area Tech Center) will upgrade equipment and align training with the employment sectors needed in the region.

The project will expand learning sites beyond the ATC using a 24-hour learning management system available at locations that include the public library, all schools and postsecondary institutions, plus sites where students and adults can get hands-on training, Daniels said.

Paducah Independent’s vision
Paducah Independent Superintendent Donald Shively describes the new facility that will be built with the help of a $3.8 million Work Ready grant as a “hybrid.” Instead of funneling students into a set path, its programs will expose them to a variety of careers from an early age. “It’s more of a liberal arts approach to life equals readiness than it would be ‘Here’s your pathway, stick to your pathway,’” he said.

The Innovation Hub, which will replace the old area technology center, will be built on the district’s high school campus and will serve students of all ages, and the community. Besides training students for high-tech jobs in information technology, engineering, logistics, health care and cybersecurity, it will be an outlet for creativity in and out of those fields.

“It’s almost a liberal arts approach to career readiness,” Shively said, adding the building itself will be designed to be adaptable and flexible to meet changing needs.

One key feature will be a makerspace, “a centerpiece of all these pathways and programs that naturally overlap into each other,” he said. The Innovation Hub will be regional, encompassing McCracken and Livingston county school districts, and Mayfield Independent, along with a private school.
 
Board View: Planning on faith
 
The Work Ready Skills grant awarded to Jessamine County proved the value of school districts making plans even without the resources in sight to make them happen, observed school board Chairwoman Hallie Bandy.

The board had been working with the district’s strategic vision for a couple of years, determining there was a need for advanced manufacturing training at the high school level, among other points. The grant will quickly make this a reality.

“We had thought through what are we going to need and it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, there’s money, what can we do with it.’ It was, ‘Oh, there’s money available to do something we already have planned to do and want to do,’” she said.

The project is important to parents and students, local manufacturers who need trained workers and the community as a whole, Bandy said.

“We do want a lot of our kids to go to college and we encourage that, but there are a lot of kids, that’s not going to be their thing. And this allows kids to find something that maybe isn’t college or is maybe in between high school and college –it gives them an avenue. It lets them know you don’t have to fit in a certain mold. There are options for all kinds of opportunities for kids to have something meaningful to do with their lives when they graduate.”
 
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