Across Kentucky, many employers continue to battle a shortage of skilled tradespeople combined with the challenges of replenishing an aging workforce. Simultaneously, more and more students are considering the most affordable and efficient path to a high-paying career.
For both employers that need to cultivate new talent and students who recognize not all successful career pathways require a four-year degree, registered apprenticeships are an increasingly important solution. Registered apprenticeships combine on-the-job training with technical instruction tailored to a company’s needs, and provide students an opportunity to earn a wage while gaining occupational competencies. There are registered apprenticeships for nearly 1,000 skillsets – everything from welding to HVAC to information technology, and healthcare fields. The possibilities are endless.
Kentucky is renewing its commitment to expanding apprenticeship opportunities, ensuring our next generation of workers has the skills to step into high-paying, high-demand careers, and providing our employers with the means to groom the local talent that will keep their businesses competitive. That can start as early as high school with youth apprenticeship programs.
Recently, I had the privilege of getting an up-close look at how Dr. Schneider Automotive Systems, an injection molding production facility in Russell Springs, is growing its own talent through a youth apprenticeship program.
Dr. Schneider partnered with Russell County High School and the Lake Cumberland Area Technology Center through the Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) initiative. The goal of the partnership is to provide a career pathway to a registered apprenticeship for career and technical education students beginning in their junior year of high school.
In its third year, the program currently employs four students whose jobs include injection molding, mechatronics, industrial maintenance and tool-making. These students are getting on-the-job training and taking high school courses that the company pre-selects.
They are not only meeting high school course requirements, but beginning a pathway to two important credentials: a nationally accepted journeyman certificate and an associate’s degree.
One 2016 Russell County High School graduate earned 1,700 hours toward the journeyperson component of a registered apprenticeship. Next summer, he’ll complete the registered apprenticeship as a certified industrial maintenance specialist. He’ll be prepared to start a meaningful career in his hometown without accumulating student debt. Meanwhile, Dr. Schneider will have a valuable, skilled employee.
Similarly, in the Lincoln Trail region, companies are addressing the technical skills gap via TRACK. In Leitchfield, Mid-Park worked with Grayson County Schools to develop a machinist program.
For employers, the program is an opportunity to educate local youth about career options and to develop a pipeline of skilled workers to help meet future workforce needs, said Trish Niles, Mid-Park Human Resource Manager and member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board.
With an estimated 1.3 million vacant STEM jobs in America, youth apprenticeship programs like these, followed by registered apprenticeships, are essential to narrowing the technical skills gap and developing the future workforce. Further, research tells us public investment in registered apprenticeships has a 27-fold return.
This is why Gov. Matt Bevin, the Labor Cabinet and the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet are working together to build more successful partnerships between secondary and post-secondary education, labor and private sectors. In fact, the latest two-year budget includes an additional $500,000 to expand registered apprenticeships. That’s combined with the recently established $100 million bond pool for technical education facility upgrades and the $15 million Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship program for high school students to receive high school and post secondary credit simultaneously, at no cost.
I cannot overemphasize how critical it is that businesses and local partners are at the table as we face the challenge of bridging the skills gap and make Kentucky’s workforce the best trained in the nation.
This is why Labor Cabinet Deputy Secretary Mike Nemes and I are visiting with Lincoln Trail region employers to discuss how we can meet workforce needs through registered apprenticeships. I encourage employers to join us at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 11, at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, Occupational and Technical Building, Room 303.
Derrick Ramsey is secretary of the Kentucky Labor Cabinet.