If you asked a group of students what would keep them in our region after they complete their secondary education, “a good career” would top the list of responses. That’s good news, whether you’re an employer cultivating a pipeline of future employees or a parent who would like your children to find career opportunities in their hometowns.
Our region’s career opportunities are growing fast and many of our local employers are struggling to find the talent they need to remain competitive and grow, particularly in the healthcare, advanced manufacturing, construction, information technology and business services, and transportation, distribution and logistics industries.
Working together, we can retain our young talent. We can meet workforce needs, help our local businesses grow and create even greater career opportunities for students. One of the ways we can do that is by connecting students to meaningful work experiences early. If our students are aware of local opportunities and have relationships with local employers, they’re much more likely to find careers that will keep them here.
In Nelson County Schools, we’re strengthening our focus on career pathways that reflect our regional employers’ needs. This year, our team has grown to include myself as director of workforce development; Amber Gootee, workforce leader at Nelson County High School; and David Mudd, workforce leader at Thomas Nelson High School. With this structure in place, we’re increasing the number of students completing work-based learning opportunities (WBLOs). Our goal is for every member of the class of 2021 to complete a WBLO.
“Our students are the future of our community,” said Mudd. “We want our students to work here and we want to fulfill the local workforce needs.”
Just one example of our district’s successful WBLO programs is the Nelson County Area Technology Center’s construction carpentry co-op.
Colton Brewer, of Bloomfield, completed a construction carpentry co-op with Buzick Construction before graduating earlier this year.
“I learned so much, and there was a definite connection between what I was learning in the classroom and what I was doing on the job,” he said.
The co-op experience brought career options into focus, he said. Still working with the Bardstown construction company, he’s optimistic about work and the future.
“I love what I do, and I want to advance with it,” Brewer said.
Donald Blincoe, of Buzick Construction, said the company wants to attract the best workforce possible and WBLOs for students interested in the industry is a win-win for students and employers.
“It definitely gives us an advantage in finding quality employees,” he said.
Additionally, we’re enriching the education community’s perspective. Taking steps to become better informed about area career opportunities, every Nelson County Schools teacher will engage in an externship program during the next five years. In this program, they’ll spend three to four days with a regional employer in an in-demand career field.
We encourage employers to reach out to their local school districts to learn more about WBLO programs. The benefits could be invaluable.
“With educators, business and industry and parents working together, we’re creating a real opportunity for students and building the workforce that will benefit our region’s economy for years to come,” Gootee said.
At the regional level, the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board’s Workforce Crisis Task Force has convened leaders in business, education and government to increase WBLOs across the region, which includes Nelson, Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade and Washington counties.
The task force’s “Unlocking Local Potential” subcommittee, a group with which Nelson County Schools is collaborating, is leading this work. For more information about the committee’s activity or to join its first monthly conference call at 9 a.m. Sept. 20, email email@example.com.
Further, WBLOs also are available to out-of-school youth up to age 24, adults and dislocated workers through the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail.
Laura Arnold is workforce development director for Nelson County Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.