Ashland Alliance

Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative expanding

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Projects funded by the $100 million Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative (KWRSI) — and $150 million in locally matched funds — have led to the commencement of 40 projects with many already training students for high-demand technology jobs.

“Kentucky is advancing rapidly in our mission to become America’s center for engineering and manufacturing excellence, and the Work Ready Skills Initiative is playing a significant role,” said Gov. Matt Bevin. “The innovative KWRSI collaborations between local communities, private sector employers, and educational institutions will be truly transformational. We are excited to continue this strong momentum in developing Kentucky’s workforce for the high-skills jobs of today and tomorrow.”

The initiative infuses resources to expand career and technical education facilities and upgrade equipment in schools through local partnerships between private industry and educational institutions. The 40 projects were selected during two rounds of competition in 2016 and 2017. The locally driven projects are tailored to the workforce and industry needs of individual areas and will provide more than 30,000 new technical training seats annually across the state.

“Since we awarded the first Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative projects a year ago, the pace of activity across Kentucky in schools, training centers, and business and industry has been remarkable. It is astounding how quickly the KWRSI investment in training is making a difference in preparing Kentuckians for careers in high-demand technology fields,” said Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner. “The ideas for all the KWRSI projects are locally driven by partnerships of employers, educators, elected officials and local leaders. The ripple effect we are seeing in communities is exactly what we were hoping for when we envisioned this initiative, and this is just the beginning.”

The initiative was passed and funded by the 2016 General Assembly and is administered by the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet with support from the Cabinet for Economic Development.

Launched in July 2016, KWRSI is aimed at developing a highly trained, modernized workforce to meet the needs of employers and promote sustainable incomes for Kentuckians. Through the initiative, Kentucky has awarded $100 million in statewide bonds to train Kentuckians in the state’s top five growth sectors — advanced manufacturing, business services and information technology (IT), construction trades, healthcare and transportation and logistics.

Eric Keeling, principal at Warren County Area Technology Center (ATC), said their $557,726 KWRSI grant has already made an impact on their program.

“We’ve created a chain reaction. Because of the new equipment, we have been able to step up to advanced robotics, machining, welding and automotive, and have a new computer lab. Companies are seeing the new equipment and the quality of the program, and they are donating equipment and starting more apprenticeships. The grant has been a godsend for our students,” Keeling said. “The award has reinforced a culture of excellence, respect, integrity, character, commitment and leadership in our students and program.”

In Northern Kentucky, the Freestore Foodbank is using its $267,000 KWRSI award to train and certify unemployed and underemployed adults in the warehousing and logistics field through its free, 10-week LIFT the TriState program. The program couples hands-on training with classroom curriculum at Gateway Community and Technical College (GCTC) so that students graduate with credentials in logistics, power equipment, forklift, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

All graduates from the project’s first class have secured jobs with pay starting between $14-$17 per hour plus full benefits. A second class has recently graduated.

“The Work Ready Skills Initiative that Gov. Bevin promoted through these grants really allowed us to jump start the LIFT the TriState program to where it is right now. We would not have been able to provide the equipment and the racking system for our students to be able to get real hands-on experience in the logistics area without this funding,” said Kurt Reiber, president and CEO of Freestore Foodbank.

LIFT the TriState student Sheba Roberson, who is in the second class of trainees, was certified in forklift in just a few weeks even though she cannot drive a car. The program has boosted her self-confidence. “I feel I can do anything as long as I have the right support and help,” she said. “I love the hands-on experience that we get from the teachers. Everything we do brings me a step closer to my goal of having a career.”

The Brighton Center in Newport is using its $227,213 KWRSI grant to upgrade equipment to train students for healthcare, and business and computer technologies careers.

“Kentucky Work Ready has been an incredible opportunity for us to actually start a new skill and enhance our current skills in medical assisting and business and computer technology,” said Talia Frye, Brighton Center’s Center for Employment Training’s (CET) director of Workforce Innovation.

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