Southcentral Kentucky districts, businesses create school-to-employer "pipeline;" area tech principal: focus is on students getting and keeping jobs

Bowling Green Daily News, March 27, 2016

Educators lay out career paths for students that can lead to jobs

The student pipeline to meet the region's employer needs is being built daily in southcentral Kentucky, officials said.

Eric Keeling, principal at the Warren Area Technology Center, believes contemporary students have a myriad of career choices in the vocational and technical fields. Thinking about those choices begins in sixth grade for local students, he said.

"I tell my students, 'You will be treated with respect. We (the center) will give you our best and you can give us your best,'" Keeling said.

At the end of the previous school year, Keeling saw just about every technology center graduate obtain a job working for local company, more than 60 students. They became welders, construction workers or were employed in jobs including benefits in local manufacturing facilities.

"We placed every senior who was career ready and wanted a job," Keeling said in a February interview.

Keeling said during the past three years enrollment at the technology center has increased. When Keeling took over, the enrollment was 153 students. It increased to 165 students and now 203 students are enrolled at the technology center from three school districts, Warren County Public Schools, Edmonson County Schools and Bowling Green Independent School District. That's out of a potential pool for more than 5,000 students. the principal said.

Efforts to find students jobs after graduation are also occurring in Barren County.

Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale said the "Learn and Earn" Initiative is an attempt to target the nearly 500 graduating seniors in Barren County this school year.

"They are our future workforce," he said.

The judge-executive said nearly 50 students in the county were put to work following graduation in 2015 at Akebono Brake's Glasgow plant, a manufacturer of disc brakes and disc brake pads at 1765 Cleveland Ave.

More than 30 of the students remain employed at Akebono months later, Hale said. The students survived "tough interviews" to obtain their job offers and the positions pay more than $13 an hour, he said.

Hale is working with the Barren River Area Development District officials to place more Barren County students into interview situations with Barren County employers this year. He said there are a dozen other business partners and he sees no reason why the "Learn and Earn" approach cannot be used throughout the 10-county region.

Students also pursue academic futures

Today's students also pursue academic futures that eventually lead to jobs.

Jason Kupchella, chief academic officer for the Warren County Public Schools, and Cindy Beals, high school supervisor/district assessment coordinator for the county district, agreed in February interviews that students looking at enrolling at colleges or pursuing work right after high school graduation also have a chance to explore those career paths.

Kupchella said students are taking advanced placement tests or classes for actual college credit while still in high school. The college classes are below the cost they would be if taken on campus at Western Kentucky University or Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

"This enriches access to things that the high schools don't have," Kupchella said.

"The job of the district is to provide opportunities," Beals said. "We start talking about career pathways in middle school."

In sixth grade, a student receives an individual learning plan, the start of a career road map that can lead to high school graduation and beyond.

An increased emphasis in public education on college and/or career readiness in Kentucky through Senate Bill 1 approved and implemented in 2009 has led to new staff positions, such as a college and career coach at Bowling Green High School.

Bowling Green schools Superintendent Gary Fields said the new approach is necessary as the pendulum in public education has swung away from only concentrating on preparing students for college.

"It's the ability of the student to be successful," Fields said. "A college and careers coach helps to bring the two worlds into alignment."

Fields said the increasing costs of higher education mean parents have to maximize their dollars. Oftentimes, students can earn certificates or two-year degrees in specializations, quickly going out into the workforce.

Job needs by 2020 documented in region

Projections show the Bowling Green region will need 9,000 jobs filled by the year 2020 and at least 1,000 jobs recently announced by area industries have yet to be filled. Many of the local jobs are in manufacturing sector.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the Bowling Green region's civilian labor force was 76,700 in December, increasing from 75,000 in July 2015. The bureau reported 3,500 people are unemployed while 73,100 have a job, leading to a 4.6 percent unemployment rate that is not seasonally adjusted.

The largest sector, or 14,000 workers, are employed in trade, transportation and utilities. The next-largest sector is government with 13,400 workers. Manufacturing is third with 11,400 workers and education and health services is fourth with 10,700.

Demographics on the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce website show 11 job categories available in the region with the majority of the workers, 39,974, in the services sector.

Construction jobs number 5,845; manufacturing, 18,459; and retail trade, 29,238, according to the breakdown.

Student self-esteem focus can lead to employment

Keeling said he's started programs at the technology center that are intended to boost a student's self-esteem, such as "Be The Change," which encourages students to focus on their work ethic and daily attendance while still in high school. "Be The Change" was recognized at a national conference last year and praised by BRADD officials.

The positive behaviors of the students are rewarded through "tickets" the teachers write. Students receiving tickets can cash them in at the technology center to obtain special T-shirts. Other students can see how the positive behaviors impact on the student population, Keeling explained.

Another program is Mentor Mondays, where local business professionals meet with students during the school year. "It's basically a year-long interview with the kids," Keeling said. Kids learn about area companies and visit some on field trips. The field trips began with trips to SCA, Stupp Bridge Co., BG Metalforming, Cannon Automotive, Shiloh Industries and Stewart Richey Construction.

"When kids see a plant manager or human resources director come here – that's powerful," Keeling said.

The school's link with business and industry have led to chamber efforts to a mentoring through Work Ethic Seal. Work Ethic Seal helps students learn about career planning/preparation, collaboration, communication, conflict management, critical thinking, employer expectations, job interviews, soft skills, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the four Cs ( critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity) and workplace skills and priorities.

"America’s system of education was built for an economy and a society that no longer exists," noted "Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society: An Educator’s Guide to the “Four Cs,” a report prepared by the National Education Association around 2011.

"In the manufacturing and agrarian economies that existed 50 years ago, it was enough to master the “three Rs” (reading, writing and arithmetic). In the modern “flat world,” the “three Rs” simply aren’t enough. If today’s students want to compete in this global society, however, they must also be proficient communicators, creators, critical thinkers and collaborators (the “four Cs”). Students need to master additional subject areas, including foreign languages, the arts, geography, science, and social studies. Educators must complement all of those subjects with the “four Cs” to prepare young people for citizenship and the global workforce," the report noted.

At the annual Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce dinner, the program contained a page detailing 31 volunteers from the business community who had dedicated more than 11 hours to further the chamber's Work Ethic Seal education efforts.

Chamber looks at talent recruitment through Work Ready

"Warren County has once again illustrated the community's commitment to excellence in talent development," noted Ron Bunch, chamber president and chief executive officer, in a February news release noting Warren County had been re-certified as a Kentucky Work Ready Community by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board.

Warren County was certified in 2012 as one of the first counties in Kentucky and the announcement in February marks the second time Warren County has been re-certified as a Work Ready Community.

The community's high school graduation rate of 94 percent, National Career Readiness Certificate holders, community commitment, educational attainment, soft-skills development and residential broadband access were all evaluated during the recertification review.

To maintain the Work Ready Community designation, Warren County must graduate 98 percent of all high school students by 2022, the chamber noted in the release.

Hale of Barren County sits on the state Workforce Investment Board. A newly formed West Central Workforce Board serving the 10-county region has begun meeting monthly in Glasgow.

Company buy-ins to mentor students lead to job offers

The technology center is making history in seeing student's jobs needs met.

Keeling said Stupp Bridge's buy-in to the student mentoring program eventually resulted in all nine welding students at the technology center receiving job offers.

"That's history for our school. That's never happened before," he said.

Stupp Bridge Company, A Division of Stupp Bros., Inc. is a leader in steel fabrication and headquartered in St. Louis. Stupp Bridge Company’s fabrication facility in Bowling Green opened in 1999 and is among the most efficient in existence, according to the company website.

Another company stepping up to the plate is Bowling Green Metalforming.

"They placed every senior last year and we have commitments for this year," Keeling of the about 100 technology center students.

Magna, BG Metalforming's parent company, is a global automotive supplier with 285 manufacturing operations and 83 product development, engineering and sales centers in 29 countries. It has more than 125,000 employees. The company announced an expansion in 2015 of the Bowling Green site.

Keeling said the new links with business and industry and getting the students to buy into the positive attitude reinforcements such as "Be The Change" has resulted in a cultural shift for the entire center.

Keeling said adding new programs is an attempt to build on that demonstrated success with local business and industry. More robotics offerings are planned.

Another strategy is grounding the students in workplace soft skills. "I don't want to see one of my guys get a job and then get fired. They all need critical employment skills so that they can keep their jobs," he said.

Certificates can be attained in valuable work skills, such as the National Career Readiness Certificate obtained through the ACT WorkKeys initiative.

ACT WorkKeys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop and retain a high-performance workforce. "This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs," according to the program's website.

As part of ACT's Work Readiness System, ACT WorkKeys can be a building block of knowledge that can lead to a job, Keeling said.

ACT WorkKeys assessments in applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information can lead to earning ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate, a portable credential earned by more than 2.3 million people across the United States, the website noted.

Keeling said the technology center's student passage rate has increased from 64 percent three years ago to between 87 to 90 percent this past year.

At least 11 local industry partners work with the technology center, he said, including SCA; Bowling Green Metalforming; Stupp Bridge; Cannon Automotive; Shiloh Industries; Davert; Kobe Aluminum Automotive Products, LLC; Clark Beverage Company; Country Oven Bakery; Stewart Richey Construction; Lowes; Magnolia Village; The Medical Center; Tri-Star Greenview Regional Hospital; and Graves-Gilbert Medical Clinic.

"We've got companies out of Louisville and Glasgow who want to hire students," Keeling said.

Keeling said the students are taught that with a good work ethic, armed with industrial and business certifications they can have a leg up on their competitors.

"I tell kids this is the last step of the journey," Keeling said, adding that the extra training can mean the difference between starting a job at $7.25 an hour and $15.50 an hour. "When you have money, you have choices," Keeling said he tells the students.

Another tool in the pipeline building for local business and industry is financial support from BRADD, which last school year provided about 60 students each with an $8,000 tuition reimbursement. A two-year degree costs about $6,200, increasing the student's potential real-world wage from $15.50 an hour to $20 an hour, Keeling said.

Early college approach could lead to greater wages

Keeling calls it the "side-door approach" to a college education, getting the technology students interested in a two-year degree at a time when it is not on their radar.

Keeling envisions literally a pathway between his center and the Kentucky Transpark campus of SKYCTC. Junior and senior students at the technology center could take math and English classes at SKYCTC, possibly earning 29 credits toward college. The early college model Keeling is working on needs financial support since the technology center funding he receives from the state of Kentucky wouldn't cover that cost.

Keeling said adding robotics, automation technology and computerized manufacturing and machine programs can expand current technology center offerings of information technology, health sciences, construction, automotive technology and welding.

The early college initiative could lead to more technology center students obtaining associate's degrees from SKYCTC. Keeling said he'd like to see 120 kids in the expanded program. The new equipment bears a price tag of about half a million dollars. Paying for four new instructors would be about $300,000 annually. Keeling said if SKYCTC is able to provide the instructors, he will seek financing for the equipment, perhaps turning to the private sector.

The expanded program would further strengthen the student pipeline to local business and industry, he said.

"It is a true early college model," Keeling said. The students would start exploring career options in eighth grade and participate in a program like The Leader in Me in the ninth and 10th grades. Students would then attend all their classes at the technology center in their junior and senior years.

"In the end, it is the difference (in wages) between $15.50 an hour and possibly $22 an hour," Keeling said.

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