While the global pandemic of 2020 brought challenges, including displaced workers and job loss, Kentucky’s leaders urged those in need of a job to take advantage of the state’s already robust workforce development programs. Early on in his administration, Gov. Andy Beshear outlined education and workforce development as key to the state’s continued economic momentum. Indeed, with several key programs from apprenticeships to scholarships, Team Kentucky is making good on its promise to raise wages and improve education and career pathways for everyone in the state — despite the challenge.
In November, the state relaunched a campaign to encourage Kentucky families to get on the path to prosperity through its Work Ready Scholarship program. In January, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman wrote an op-ed piece discussing the state’s recommitment to the program and workers across the state in light of the pandemic.
“We know that, throughout this pandemic, action is difficult, but inaction is deadly,” she wrote. “During these unprecedented times, we remain focused on forging paths of prosperity that will create meaningful, transformational change for you and your family.
“It is a myth that you must have a degree from a four-year college or university to get a great job. In many instances, just one class can provide you with college credit. This credit can lead to a better paying job, industry certification or can be used to start an associate degree. Five years after graduating with an associate degree, our students in the trades make over $51,000 a year on average. People without a degree average around $20,000 a year.”
Part of the Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative, the Work Ready Scholarship began in 2017 and provides up to 60 hours of tuition in high-demand programs like health care, manufacturing, business and information technology, construction/skilled trades and transportation/logistics. The Kentucky Lottery provides funding for the scholarship.
Kentucky students and adults who are eligible for the scholarship can use it to obtain an industry-recognized certificate, associate degree in applied science or diploma at one of 21 participating colleges and universities throughout the commonwealth including, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Campbellsville University, Eastern Kentucky University, Galen College of Nursing, MedQuest College, Northern Kentucky University, Sullivan University, University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University.
Youth apprenticeships give students hands-on experiences in high-demand careers
One of the state’s most powerful — and well-recognized — workforce development tools is its Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) youth apprenticeship program. A win-win for employers and students, this cooperative education placement program allows high school students to earn high school and Career and Technical Education credits while working with a local employer. After graduation, the student can begin a full-time apprenticeship leading to a nationally recognized Journeyman certificate.
Since the program began as a pilot in 2013, 70 employers and 400 students have taken advantage of it. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Education has recognized Kentucky’s TRACK program as a top youth apprenticeship program.
Mary Taylor, industry training and development specialist for the Division of Technical Schools and Federal Programs at the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, said the program has become a tremendous resource for companies looking to fill their workforce pipelines. Driven by the needs of industry, businesses can tailor the program to suit their specific needs. The only cost associated with the program is the student’s wage.
“A co-op is a paid-work based opportunity tied to a career pathway,” Taylor explained. “For these students to be eligible, they’ve already had two courses in a career pathway. They have to finish those before we’ll ever put them on a job site. In the 2019-20 school year, we had 72,415 students that were eligible to co-op and go to work for someone. But we only had 4,868 students that were on the job. This demonstrates that this age group is the untapped pipeline for our future workforce. These are students with a good foundation and an interest in the occupation.”
The TRACK model touches various sectors across the state, including some of the most in-demand careers like construction, welding, health care, IT, insurance and more. Students are taught their Career and Technical Education courses by industry professionals with years of experience in the field.
“As far as return on investment for an employer — investing in this age group versus hiring someone off the street — these students have a great foundational understanding of the occupation,” Taylor said. “No matter what sector we go into, the TRACK model is three foundational courses, plus a co-op. The model’s premise is that a student will graduate Friday, and Monday, they’ll just continue as a full-time apprentice. That student doesn’t have to choose between an education and a career.”