Op-Ed by Governor Matt Bevin
From the beginning of our administration, we have set the goal of making Kentucky the engineering and manufacturing hub of excellence in the world. We are off to a good start. We recently shattered our annual record for new economic development projects and we did so in only the first five months of 2017. Many factors weigh into the decisions of businesses to expand or locate their facilities in our state. However, every business leader I meet with emphasizes the quality of our workforce as one of their most critical considerations. That is why our state has made workforce development a top priority.
Early in our administration, we launched the Work Ready Skills Initiative. This statewide bond program was set up to build a highly trained, modernized workforce to meet the needs of employers and to result in sustainable incomes for our citizens. The program has focused on the construction, equipping, or renovation of, facilities dedicated to workforce skills training. It also provides funds for these facilities to purchase or upgrade equipment. In May of this year, we awarded our second round of funding and we are seeing excitement spread across the commonwealth about upgrading our workforce training capabilities.
Along with facility upgrades, we are focused on empowering individuals to obtain post-secondary degrees and certificates. Kentucky offers students a dual credit scholarship program. This program funds scholarships for high school seniors to take courses that offer high school and post-secondary credit concurrently. When students are incentivized to pursue these high-quality college and technical courses, they are more likely to continue their education after graduation, giving them greater career and technical readiness.
In the commonwealth we also recognize the value of apprenticeships. These training programs provide career pathways for those just entering the workforce as well as increased opportunities for those looking to broaden their career opportunities. That’s why Kentucky’s Labor Cabinet launched the Kentucky Trained, Kentucky Built campaign last fall. Via their newly created Division of Apprenticeships, the cabinet is working closely with private businesses to expand apprenticeships tailored to meet employer needs. Currently 150 employers and labor management organizations have registered programs and we want that number to grow. The Labor Cabinet has also teamed up with the Cabinet for Justice and Public Safety to create the “Justice to Journeyman” program. This initiative provides inmates and youth a path to earn nationally recognized journeyman credentials in a skilled trade. Giving these individuals a productive path back into society reduces recidivism and enriches our communities.
Recently our Education and Workforce Development Cabinet launched the Help Wanted Kentucky Initiative. Through their website, www.helpwantedky.com, they have created a central location for Kentuckians seeking education and job opportunities in Kentucky’s five high-demand industries. The website includes information about the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, which provides tuition for job certifications at 21 Kentucky colleges and universities. Information is also provided about what training is required for the high-demand jobs and where that training is being offered. Many of the certification programs can be completed in less than six months.
Along with these initiatives, we have just announced the creation of a Work Matters Task Force. This 23 member task force will bring together every department of state government that has a hand in workforce development with members of the private sector. Their mission will be to address barriers to employment and promote workforce inclusion among people with disabilities, foster children, disabled veterans, and those burdened by past substance abuse or criminal records. These populations have valuable and unique contributions to lend to our society and our labor force, yet in many cases are underutilized. Providing a path to employment allows them to gain independence and self-sufficiency while improving Kentucky’s economy.
These are just a few of the programs and initiatives we are implementing for workforce development in Kentucky. Updated facilities, scholarship assistance, highly-focused training programs and a clear path to employment, all bring financial opportunity and dignity to individuals while providing the skilled labor that growing businesses require. The employees in Kentucky and across America deserve no less. Our futures depend on it.