o build and retain skilled talent, there must be ample support behind the scenes, guiding every step of the way to nurture a reliable talent pool.
This train of thought has helped the State of Kansas and its regional organizations formulate unique and targeted programs that span every region and are fit for any age, occupation or skill level. Many of these programs target the state’s key industries, such as advanced manufacturing, aerospace, bioscience, animal health and renewable energy production. For these industries to succeed, they are dependent on a skilled, reliable workforce.
Kansas has a history of recruiting top global companies within those industries. That fact in itself provides a pull for talent to consider staying or moving into the state.
Leading companies such as Hill’s Pet Nutrition, MilliporeSigma, Michelin and Orizon Aerostructures invested nearly a billion dollars ($999.3 million combined) in 2023 alone to expand in the state, introducing hundreds of new, in-demand jobs.
The Wichita State University Center for Economic Development and Business Research’s “2024 Kansas Employment Forecast” projected the state would add 25,000 jobs by the end of 2023, a growth rate of 1.8% from 2022. “The labor market remains a significant pillar of Kansas’s economic strength,” the report states. “With the unemployment rate expected to hover around 3.1% in 2024 and 2025, the state continues to offer a robust labor environment.”
Much of the anticipated growth comes from recent investments secured by Kansas. The production industry in its entirety will grow by nearly 1%, specifically in durables manufacturing, which is due to increase by 4.1% in line with semiconductor and EV battery projects currently in the midst of development.
To fill these anticipated roles, the state’s leadership, local organizations, businesses and institutions are working together to showcase the career possibilities available to draw in out-of-state talent and keep local workforces intact.
We’ve Got Options
Access to resources is typically the largest hurdle faced by talent around the nation. Kansas plans on leaving no stone unturned. Whatever resources talent is looking for, from open roles and on-the-job training to reskilling to entrepreneurial support, aid is just around the corner.
Over the past year, a significant focus for the state has been on scaling registered apprenticeships. The establishment of the Office of Registered Apprenticeship within the Kansas Department of Commerce in September 2022 was a vital tool for the future of workforce development to Governor Laura Kelly. Today, there has been a 40% increase in residents utilizing this direct training route. In connecting talent directly to companies, guesswork is diminished for both parties, getting on-site training done faster and securing full-time employment opportunities.
“Kansas is all in on Registered Apprenticeships,” said Governor Kelly at a National Apprenticeship Week event in November 2023. “A year after I created the Office of Registered Apprenticeship, it’s clear that providing more Kansans the opportunity to get on-the-job training is a win-win for employers and for our workforce. We will continue to invest in apprenticeships, including for teachers and for those wanting to enter the skilled trades, so that more people have the skills necessary to get a job and contribute to our economy.”
Aside from apprenticeships, the state offers a number of workforce programs that cater to specific obstacles talent might be facing in terms of polishing their skills or landing a high-quality, high-paying role.
Disabilities should not deter one from the right to gain vital resources and achieve self-sufficiency. Kansas offers programs like Ticket To Work, which provides support for career development at no cost for talent aged 18 to 24. RETAINWORKS is another no-cost program for those facing illness, injury or health problems that have kept them from working. This program offers support and training opportunities that aid in getting the employee back to work.
In addition, Kansas has deployed its KANSASWORKS Workforce Centers around the state with doors open to its workforce and employers. For those seeking job opportunities, when visiting a Workforce Center, talent can work one-on-one with staff to build professional skills like interviewing techniques or creating a resume to begin applying for open roles. Building upon basic needs, these locations regularly host job fairs, workshops and skills training programs that cement a pathway for talent to network with local employers.
At the end of the day, matching employers to the perfect candidate is the goal. Working alongside jobseekers throughout the entire process ensures that these candidates meet the critical needs of the state’s industries and feel confident in their capabilities once the job begins. KANSASWORKS currently shows over 51,000 openings on its online database; from entry-level to management, a new career is within reach at any time.
For The Youth
From primary school to college graduation, Kansas leadership wants students to know about the abundant career opportunities that can be found while preparing to enter the workforce.
Within the state’s key industries, many employers are looking to recruit talent with a background in STEM. Kansas institutions are creating STEM programs in and out of the classroom to accommodate the growing demand. A national goal to boost interest and participation in this field has led to an influx of federal support from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which Kansas plans to use through the Kansas State University College of Education’s Rural Education Center.
In collaboration with the DoD, the university created Project LEAPES. The program stands for Learning, Exploration and Application for Prospective Engineering Students. It uses a nearly $2.7 million grant to reach students from seventh to 12th grade to mentor and promote obtaining a degree in STEM. The hope is that by the end of 2023, 500 middle and high school students and 53 educators will be impacted by this program.
These programs aim to reach rural students and bring awareness to careers in computer science, aerospace, robotics and AI, curriculum not typically offered at every school in the state. Middle and high school students can participate in virtual camps or in-person workshops that provide different activities for students to choose and explore whatever piques their interest.
The ability to get a feel for what working in any of these industries is like allows these students to prepare better for what career path to pursue upon graduation, in addition to which state university or college can best support that decision. The state houses six state universities, 19 community colleges and six technical colleges, many of which are actively collaborating with local industry to keep curriculum up-to-date based on industry needs.
Kansas State University remains a top choice for many Kansans, and for good reason. Aside from working on programs for middle to high school students, the university is a go-to for local industry to collaborate with students.
“Through the Technology Development Institute, innovators and small manufacturers get access to leading-edge prototyping and manufacturing technologies, and students get hands-on experience with disruptive ideas and technologies,” says Kansas State University Technology Development Institute Director Jeffery Tucker.
Of the three campuses the university has in the state, its main Manhattan campus holds the Technology Development Institute. Here, students close textbooks and are able to help companies and entrepreneurs formulate ideas and work to bring them to life. These experiences help students not only network themselves but also build essential skills they can apply immediately.
“Our students are employed as paid interns and work directly with our full-time engineering staff on development projects,” says Tucker. “We have had several students that have gone on to work for the companies whose projects they worked on while they were here.”
Talented individuals want to be where they can shine. Workforce tools and resources in Kansas are made to be easy to find and connect with, regardless of age or current employment status. With thousands of jobs available now and thousands more expected to hit, now is the best time to find that dream role.