Why are there so many job openings in Kentucky that go unfilled?
Unfortunately, one of the main reasons is that employers cannot find qualified workers. Report after report shows this to be true. Yet, we see statistics that also tell us many Kentuckians of working age aren’t going to work each day. Kentucky has one of the lowest workforce-participation rates in the country.
Research shows there are several reasons for this disconnect between the number of people of working age who don’t work and the number of job openings. This includes people who can’t pass a drug screen and a culture that does not seem to value higher education.
One of the major reasons behind this is that our workforce does not have the education needed to fill today’s jobs. In fact, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System recently conducted research with 3,000 Kentuckians from all parts of the state, which showed a large majority of working age people have no interest in college classes.
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Kentucky’s college-going rate needs improvement, to say the least. So how do you motivate people who aren’t interested in college to earn a credential that can move them into better jobs? Our research tells us that time and cost are two of the biggest barriers to persuading them to get the education they need.
Now, the state has knocked down those barriers with a new program called the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship. Kentuckians can go to college tuition free to earn credentials in short-term programs in five in-demand business sectors. Those sectors are health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/information technology and construction/trades.
The 16 colleges of KCTCS offer hundreds of programs in these fields. Many of the programs can be completed in four months or less and can lead to careers that pay better than some requiring a bachelor’s degree. Some of these jobs are tied to our work and learn programs, in which students attend class and work for a local company.
It’s a win-win situation. Students get hands-on experience while earning a paycheck, and employers get the educated workers they need. Additionally, we have just joined with the Kentucky Labor Cabinet to offer more apprenticeship programs that will help our students graduate and go directly to work.
Types of job openings vary around the state, but one thing is for certain: people need education beyond high school. This doesn’t always mean a bachelor’s degree. There are numerous careers that don’t require even an associate degree. For those who want to earn a degree, they can begin in a short-term program, earn credentials toward an associate degree and then transfer to one of our four-year partners, if that’s their goal.
The opportunity to earn a college credential at one of the 16 colleges of KCTCS has never been easier. The Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship covers up to 32 hours. Anyone who has not yet earned a college degree of any type is eligible for free tuition toward earning a certificate or diploma in one of the five sectors. There are no income or age limits to qualify. The only educational requirement to apply is a high school diploma or GED.
The scholarship is administered by the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. Prospective students must first apply for federal financial aid before they are eligible to apply for the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship.
The scholarship is an investment in people, communities and the economy. We applaud lawmakers and the administration for their commitment to higher ed and making cost-saving options available.
Let’s raise our education attainment levels and help people get good jobs in their local communities. Everyone wants a better life, and we are here to help them have it.
Jay K. Box is president of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.