By Madelynn Coldiron
Kentucky’s schools could ensure that all their students were college and career-ready, but that wouldn’t help if graduates were prepared for jobs that paid little or were in short supply.
That’s what a statewide effort to align economic development with education is trying to prevent. The program has identified significant region-specific job sectors so employers, educators and students can be sure positions in those industries can be filled locally.
“Not in every case, not in every work force area of the state, but we were training an awful lot of massage therapists, an awful lot of truck drivers and an awful lot of cosmetologists,” Tom West, executive director of the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board, told attendees at a clinic at KSBA’ s annual conference. “The problem was, our employers in the state who wanted to grow and be competitive were not able to get the work force they needed.”
The system aimed at rectifying this situation is called sector strategies. A study identified the types of industries likely to be needed now and in the future in each of 11 regions of Kentucky.
The results of the research have been placed online in a toolkit that can be used by stakeholders ranging from secondary and postsecondary schools to chambers of commerce and economic development agencies. Work is continuing in each of the regions to further pinpoint locally important sectors.
PHOTO: Dr. Dale Winkler, executive director of career and technical education, clarifies a point following his clinic session.
For K-12 education, this provides a way to target education and training resources toward jobs that will be in demand, have the potential for growth and will pay well. And it means it is essential to create career pathways for students to become college and career ready, said Dr. Dale Winkler, executive director of career and technical education, who works for the Kentucky departments of education and workforce.
The sector strategy dovetails with the ongoing transformation in career and technical education in Kentucky. There are CTE programs in 163 school districts, Winkler said, and 153,000 students are taking at least one CTE course. Career and technical education also has taken on an added significance with program reviews and other measures of career readiness in the state’s new accountability system.
Winkler encouraged school board teams to discuss the sector strategy for their region with their area’s Workforce Investment Board, and pull together a panel of local industry representatives to ensure their district’s programs are on target. He also pointed to the importance of teachers and counselors understanding sector strategies and career paths.
“You have to have industry there talking to your school boards and to your school counselors,” he said.
A workgroup that was an offshoot of the governor’s Transforming Education in Kentucky task force recently made a series of recommendations around career and technical education. Among them, Winkler said, were alignment of CTE curriculum between the state’s 53 area technology centers and the courses taught in high schools; ensuring CTE programs are current and relevant with the input of business and industry in assessments and program reviews; and expansion of WorkKeys, a test that assesses skills required for success in the workplace.
The panel also recommended beginning curriculum early to give young students an awareness of career clusters and pathways, with exploration of those at the middle school level leading to coursework and preparation in high school.
Teachers should also be allowed to participate in staff exchanges with local industries, the workgroup suggested.
“Your math, your science teachers, they need to be on that plant floor, they need to be elbow to elbow for a few days with the engineers so that can truly see the skills that the students need. We need the same thing for our technical teachers,” Winkler said.
Not surprisingly, funding is a major obstacle to amping up career and technical education. Winkler said there are requests for 56 new high-tech programs from among the 53 area technology centers – and no money to add them. He told school board members at the clinic that partnerships may offer some hope. One district is looking at partnering with a local industry, with the industry providing a training site and equipment, and the school providing the teachers.
“We’re having to look at these types of things,” he said.
Another district is considering setting up a foundation to fund career and technical education, while a bill currently before the General Assembly would do the same on a statewide level.
To access the Kentucky Sector Strategy Toolkit, which has a breakdown of employment sectors by region, click here.