Western Ky. school districts, community/tech college sign off on Work Ready Skills agreement, launching the project that Fulton Co. superintendent calls "a game-changer"

Paducah Sun, Oct. 17, 2017

Work Ready initiative moves forward with $3 million grant


Monday's signing of a Work Ready Skills Initiative agreement between area school districts and West Kentucky Community and Technical College may have been ceremonial, but educators say the grant's long-term benefits are quite tangible.

WKCTC was awarded the $3.04 million Work Ready grant to distribute to area technology centers and career and technical centers in five counties and 11 area high schools in the college's service region. The money will be used to enhance educational and workforce training. The agreement runs through Aug. 31, 2019.

The initiative provides resources to expand career and technical education facilities and upgrade equipment in participating schools through local partnerships between private industry and educational institutions.

WKCTC President Anton Reece said the focus of the initiative is to improve the skill level of Kentucky's workforce in five sectors: advanced manufacturing, business and information technology, construction technology, health sciences and transportation.

"It (initiative) also coincides with Gov. Matt Bevin's charge for the state of Kentucky to be seen as an epicenter for engineering and advanced manufacturing in these sectors, which we are in a primary position to support," Reece said.

School districts, area technical centers, and career technical centers across the Jackson Purchase Area formed the West Kentucky Work Ready Skills Consortium. It includes the local college and school districts in Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Marshall and McCracken counties, including Fulton, Mayfield, Murray and Paducah city districts.

The consortium also includes the West Kentucky Workforce Board, Murray State University, University of Kentucky College of Engineering at Paducah, Adult Educational-Skills You across the region, Kentucky Farm Workers, regional HeadStart programs and numerous other agencies.

Mary Anne Medlock, Purchase Area Development District special projects coordinator, said all of the participating partners could have individually applied for Work Ready Skills grant money, but decided to work together.

"Today is a very important day because we are taking control of sectors that are going to lead to jobs," Medlock said. "We're going to help employers find qualified employees who will help them meet their production demands."

Aaron Collins, superintendent of Fulton County schools, was a member of the steering committee that helped facilitate the process.

"Please understand what we have here ... opportunity," Collins said. "This is a game-changer for west Kentucky. Manufacturers will now have 21st century equipment that is training 21st century employees and we're ready to go to work today."

Wayne Lewis, executive director of education policy and programming with the state education and workforce development cabinet, praised the local effort to further the vision of the governor and other state officials. "The combination of that vision on the part of state leaders and the work you do right here on the ground in west Kentucky together with this grant will give us the opportunity to do something incredibly special," Lewis said.

"We're going to see tremendous change in terms of preparation of our young people that enter the workforce, and see economic development soar in this region like we've never seen before."

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