Education First: KCTCS partners with KY businesses for new workforce development program
Published 5:05 pm Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Dozens of Kentucky company representatives showed up at the State Capitol in Frankfort on Tuesday for the announcement of a new workforce development initiative.
Recently, Kentucky has grown into an economic powerhouse, Gov. Andy Beshear said at the event. During his administration, he has announced 870 private sector location or expansion projects totaling $26.8 billion in new investment, creating more than 47,000 private sector jobs.
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is now looking to capitalize on that economic growth by building a workforce “educated and ready for these jobs of the future,” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said.
“These lofty investment numbers and these big announcements are great, but in order to see it to fruition and in order to have an answer for this parallel economic development means we have to have a workforce that matches it both in quality and quantity,” Coleman said.
The only solution is to provide every Kentuckian with access to a high quality education, she added.
The Education First program works to do just that.
“Education First” Kentucky companies will provide tuition assistance, flexible schedules and mentorship for KCTCS students, who will work at the companies while pursuing their education.
“The reality is that right now, too many students are forced to decide between pursuing their education and advancing their skills or earning a stable paycheck and supporting their family,” Beshear said.
This will address that challenge, he said. It will also give students a seamless transition from community and technical college to the workforce, since they will already be working part- or full-time for an Education First company.
Right now, 45 companies have signed on to the initiative. They include businesses from most of Kentucky’s key sectors, including manufacturing, automation, logistics and distribution, metals and health care.
These companies have already allocated $3 million for additional student support, and 2,000 potential positions for students in the program have been identified, said Jessie Schook, vice president of workforce and economic development at KCTCS.
Med Center Health in Bowling Green is one of those companies.
Tony Bohn, vice president and chief human resources officer, said they will be working with Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College to develop programs for current workers and high schoolers who may join the workforce in the future.
“We look forward to continued collaboration toward the development of new programs that will prepare southcentral Kentucky for future workforce growth,” Bohn said.
Schook said that about a third of KCTCS students who have to leave their studies cite financial challenges and work conflicts as their reason.
“These companies today are making it very clear. You don’t have to do that,” she said. “We are going to support you. We believe in lifelong learning and we believe in skill development.”
Companies also stand to benefit from the program. Kentucky’s workforce participation rate is 57%, as of July 2023. Mobilizing the others is key to their future success.
Schook said that the targeted Kentuckians fall into three buckets.
First, current KCTCS students who are struggling in class due the difficulty of balancing work and education will be identified by faculty as prospective candidates.
Second, about 600,000 Kentuckians have some college credentials, Schook said. Some are unemployed and others may already be working at Education First companies or at jobs that are likely to be automated in the future.
This program could position this group for the future by giving them more opportunities to increase their earning potential while supporting themselves.
Third, KCTCS is launching a grassroots movement to let prospective students know about this program.
They plan to reach out to career centers, K-12 institutions, area technology centers, the justice system and local nonprofits that provide support to certain populations.
“We could put all the marketing dollars behind this in the world, but the grassroots approach is going to be the way forward for us,” Schook said. “… We really believe that that network of experts who are already working with these clients with job seekers and have that trust with them are going to be able to best promote this to Kentuckians.”
Family Scholar House has agreed to offer “wraparound support” connecting prospective students with the right opportunity for them, based on the region in which they live, their financial situation and other needs.
During the first year of the program, companies will report baseline data on how many students are hired through Education First and their retention rates compared to traditional hires.
The second year, more concrete goals will be set, Schook set.
Beshear said this would be a “sea change” in Kentucky’s workforce development efforts.
“This is the most potential we’ve ever had to leave a collective legacy and more opportunity for every future generation,” he said. “We have a chance to be the generation to change everything and turn our brain drain into a brain gain.”