Hal Heiner, secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, has a message for Kentuckians: Everyone needs education after high school, jobs are available, and there is training for you – free of charge, thanks to the new Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship program.
The scholarship program was created by an executive order from Gov. Matt Bevin in December 2016. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, the program will provide financial aid for qualifying Kentucky residents enrolling in these high-demand, higher education programs:
- Advanced manufacturing (including computer-assisted drafter, machine tool operator, 3D modeler, and more)
- Health care (including radiographer, Medicaid nurse aide, medical coder, pharmacy technician, and more)
- Business and information technology (including data entry operator, computer support technician, information security specialist, and more)
- Construction trades (including carpenter, electrician, plumber, HVAC mechanic, and more)
- Transportation and logistics (including supply chain specialist, automotive technician, diesel engine mechanic, and more)
State officials expect 84,000 job openings in Kentucky annually in these areas over the next seven years.
Heiner spoke with KET’s Renee Shaw about the scholarship program recently on a special edition of Education Matters.
Heiner said it’s vital for economic expansion that Kentucky increases the education and skill level of its workforce. Just over 50 percent of Kentucky adults have an education credential past high school, he said, compared with a national average closer to 60 percent. And Heiner said experts believe it needs to be 80 percent by 2025.
“We won’t get the jobs that are the most fulfilling for Kentuckians unless we are able to raise these metrics,” he said. “You know, 20 years ago, the economic development race was about flat land and a free building … incentives type of things. And it is completely changed. It’s all about workforce.”
Economists estimate that jobs that involve repetitive motion may no longer exist in five years, Heiner said – and that by 2025, 80 percent of all jobs in the country will require education past high school.
“The nature of work has changed with the technology and automation explosion,” Heiner said. “We need to have methods to not only train students, but also adults, and re-train adults so that they can go on to the great careers that are available today in this state.”
Heiner provided details about the Kentucky Work Ready Scholarships:
- Who is eligible? The scholarship is available to adult learners (U.S. citizens who are Kentucky residents) who have graduated from high school, or who have earned or are working toward their GED® credential, but who have not yet earned an associate’s degree or higher.
- What does the scholarship cover? The scholarship covers the amount of tuition not covered by federal and state grants and scholarships. The maximum amount will not exceed in-state tuition and fees for full-time enrollment in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
- What do you need to do? First, fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) to see what federal funds you are eligible for. Choose a field and find an institution that offers training. Apply for admission, and then apply for the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship. Funds are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Scholarship students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average. The scholarship expires when one of the following conditions is met: after its receipt for four academic terms, or for 32 credit hours, or an associate’s degree is earned, whichever comes first.
More scholarship information is available by calling KHEAA (Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority) at 1-800-928-8926 and from the website, helpwantedky.com.
The top two areas for jobs are advanced manufacturing and health sciences, Heiner said. In construction, an aging workforce needs to be replaced. “In many areas of the state, the average individual in those fields is approaching 60 today,” Heiner said. “In northern Kentucky, it’s 58 for electricians. So just replacing those individuals, plus filling the huge number of vacancies today, is an opportunity for lots of people.”
Heiner said the scholarships allow people to get on the first rung of a career ladder. There are 10-20 career paths in each of the five high-demand sectors, Heiner said, and initial training sometimes takes only a semester. “And if you think you can increase your pay $11 to $17 in four or five months, we’re hoping a lot of individuals go for that.”
Heiner said state officials hope these initiatives will increase Kentucky’s labor participation rate. “We talk about the unemployment rate at 5 percent,” Heiner said. “But we have an extra 7 percent of Kentuckians that have not found their way into the workforce.”
Work Ready Skills Initiative
In addition to the scholarship program, the state is investing in career and technical education through a $100 million bond program called the Work Ready Skills Initiative. This program offers fund projects like facility improvements and equipment upgrades. Grants must be matched with 10 percent local investment.
Many of the career and technical colleges have buildings that were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, Heiner said, and equipment needs to be upgraded.
“You go into where we are training, and instead of having industry relevant equipment, there’s a lathe there left over from the World War II era,” Heiner said. “And you know that’s important for a foundational, but we also need industry relevant equipment, that we have the programmable lathe.”
The $100 million investment will pay big dividends, Heiner said. “We’ll see nearly a quarter of a billion dollars’ worth of investment over the next two years in career and technical education in Kentucky that this $100 million has kicked off,” he said. “So we’re real excited. It’s created a buzz that career and technical education is the future for, really, the majority of our kids.”
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