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Making a Difference: Getting Up to Speed

Helping Kentucky’s workforce change with the times

Susan Elkington, president of Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Georgetown, recently gave her five-year-old niece an unusual Christmas gift: an oval-shaped piece of plastic with two holes in it.

When asked about the object, Elkington replied: “This is for her imagination.” Sure enough, her niece used the plastic oval as a doll’s sled, a rocking chair for her sister, and more.
“There were so many different things that she thought of,” Elkington said. “It goes to show that if you give children an opportunity to be inquisitive in a fun way, they’ll run with it. But so many children don’t necessarily have those opportunities in their everyday lives.”

The science of early learning

It’s one reason why Elkington says she values KET, particularly its children’s programming. In fact, a recent study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education shows that disadvantaged children, ages 4-5, who watch the PBS KIDS series A Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That! have a greater interest in and understanding of core physical science ideas.

“It’s so important to introduce kids at a young age to the concepts of STEM,” Elkington says. “And KET’s programs do that. They allow children to have fun and to learn without really realizing that they’re learning. And that’s a great way for parents — many of whom don’t have a STEM background — to help prepare their children to enter the school system and to be successful long-term.”

It’s so important to introduce kids at a young age to the concepts of STEM. And KET’s programs do that. They allow children to have fun and to learn without really realizing that they’re learning.

Susan Elkington

An evolving workforce

In Kentucky, where manufacturing is the state’s leading industry, an openness to learning new things will likely play a role in the state’s future economic growth, Elkington says.

As manufacturing plants evolve, adding sophisticated robotics and automation, the state’s workforce will need to keep up, continually adding new skills.

And KET’s workforce development resources, such as its In Demand series and Workplace Essential Skills, are important tools for helping to get the word out about the state’s changing needs.

KET’s In Demand videos, which offer a snapshot of what a career in one of Kentucky’s high-demand industries might look like, can help steer those considering a career change or those coming directly out of school to industries they might previously have overlooked, such as manufacturing, Elkington said.

“Programs like KET’s In Demand series are so important because they help get the word out that there are a lot of opportunities in manufacturing,” Elkington says. “Plants aren’t what they used to be. They’re bright and clean. And they allow people to work as members of a team with a wealth of new technology, like robotics and artificial intelligence. And we need to continue to get that story out because we know that there are so many people here who can be successful in this field.”