As students walked across the stage to receive diplomas throughout Kentucky this spring, they could be confident they were entering a job-seekers’ market.
The Kentucky Society of Human Resource Management recently released a survey of employers in our state that showed a wide variety of skills are needed. Job hunters with skills in the medical field (nurses, doctors, specialists), skilled trades (electricians, carpenters, machinists, mechanics, welders, plumbers) and engineering are in high-demand.
But companies reported they can’t find workers with the necessary skills to address business growth and increased hiring expected in the coming years. This is a problem worth solving.
It is a talent pipeline challenge that requires regional solutions, which must begin in our schools and communities. To put it bluntly, there is no shortage of talent in our state, only a lack of vision and collaboration.
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Southeast of Lexington, the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative is supporting 21 school districts and partnering with local employers to develop the talents of our young people and increase their awareness of career pathways in our region and state.
Students are learning the academic subjects needed to meet our state’s high school graduation requirements, and acquiring in-demand skills to address challenges and economic opportunities in their region.
At three area technology centers across the region — Lee County, Knott County and Phelps Area Technology Center — students designed, built and sold three “tiny house” projects this school year. Students conducted research, learned and applied math and science and acquired new skills, while addressing the need for affordable housing in our region. Construction on eight more tiny houses will begin this fall.
In April, KVEC joined local governments in Perry and Knott Counties, Hazard Community College and other education and industry partners to announce a plan to build a complex in Eastern Kentucky where companies can test and make drones, while training more people to use these high-tech unmanned aircraft.
The Knott and Perry county border provides an ideal location for the facility, offering flat land left from surface mining with large, relatively unpopulated areas to fly over, and an available workforce.
Kentucky is the second-largest exporter of aerospace products. Drone manufacturers and pilots will be able to test and develop their projects, and local planners anticipate entrepreneurial opportunities, housing, tourism and other associated business activity growing around the drone port.
Education and training are key to ensuring residents can fill these employment opportunities. KVEC and Hazard Community College are developing a training curriculum to provide youth and adults with the skills to pursue careers in the commercial drone industry.
We also are collaborating with local, state and national experts to strengthen teaching and learning at the K-12 level, so students are prepared to pursue careers locally and throughout our state. In July, more than 20 organizations and experts will meet in Hazard to discuss developing new micro-credentials for personalized professional learning and licensure renewal for teachers.
Closing the skills gap, slowing the “brain drain” and bolstering our economy for all residents requires a process that begins in our schools and is coordinated with our post-secondary education, training and business partners.
There is no shortage of talent in Kentucky, only the need to develop the talents of our youth and adults to overcome the challenges we face and take advantage of the economic opportunities in front of us.
Jeff Hawkins is executive director of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, which supports 21 school districts in southeastern Kentucky.