Regional workforce: Academy forming of local schools, technical colleges, industry

Published 9:49 am Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Thanks to a $115,000 grant from the Kentucky Department of Education, the US 127 Regional Career Academy is forming a shared system from five other school districts in the region, two technical colleges and one area technical center, to allow students to be better prepared for futures in the health care or manufacturing fields.

“The idea is to create pathways for students who want to get into those fields,” said Richard Webb, executive director of the Harrodsburg-Mercer Industrial Development Authority, and facilitator of the grant locally.

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The $115,000 New Skills for Youth Grant from the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical Education, Webb said, is a one-year grant and paid for the planning of putting more than two school systems with local technical colleges and area technology centers to create a “career academy” that focused on high need areas. Only three were given out across the state.

Webb said, “in other words, what kinds of jobs do we have here that our industries need?”

Locally, the grant is funding the planning of the US 127 Regional Career Academy, slated to open fall 2018. The grant brings together the Anderson County, Burgin Independent, Danville Independent, Kentucky School for the Deaf and Mercer County school systems, along with the Bluegrass Community and Technical Colleges in Lawrenceburg and Danville, and the Hughes Jones Area Technology Center in Harrodsburg. Representatives from each school joined Webb in writing the grant. They were also joined by Steve Rinehart, on behalf of KY FAME, the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education.

They also wanted to make it a regional thing, he said, because the workforce is regional.

“I think it’s a really good idea. I believe it’s the right way to go and it’s something that needed to be done a long time ago,” he said. “The state recognized that and put some money into making this happen.”

Webb said they were notified of the grant in June and began work on the planning process in August. The “powerful leadership” on the team, he said referring to the members, made for quick progress.

All of the districts are contributing, he said, and have done a memorandum of agreement to cover transportation, a career coach and one teacher. Webb said they may be able to use existing staff members for those two positions. Danville, Burgin and KSD already have a program on a smaller scale that provides transportation to students to take certain pathways classes at the other schools. This program would likely be able to piggy back on that, Webb said, for transportation purposes.

Now that the planning of the program is complete, he said, they will move into the program advisory committee, bringing in professionals in the medical and manufacturing fields to help review the plan to ensure students are getting what they need to be hired in their industries.

“We’re not sure what classes are going to be taught yet,” Webb said, but said they will set students up to proceed into the roles of RN, LPN or health sciences technology, or into welding, advanced manufacturing technician or industrial maintenance/industrial electrician.

Some classes will be offered as dual credits. Students will continue taking their regular classes, too, but these offerings will be worked into the schools’ schedules, allowing students to start as freshmen.

“It’s a neat thing. Actually, it’s kind of energized me to get to do it,” Webb said. “I think first of all, it’s the right idea … What we’re doing is trying to create something we’ve not had in the state. The whole purpose is not to reinvent the wheel.

“The purpose is to get students involved in career decisions earlier and enable them to enter the workforce sooner and better prepared.”

Students in the health care industries could have an opportunity to work in a co-op program at Frankfort Regional Medical, which currently partners with the Lawrenceburg BCTC; those in the manufacturing industries could do co-op work with Hitachi, Corning, the distilleries in Lawrenceburg and other similar industries.

“You could call it job-shadowing, you could call it internships … That’s a goal we have, we want to get the students into the industries so it’s not all classroom — it’s practical experience,” Webb said. “It’s a huge cooperative effort.”

The last phase before opening the academy will be forming a 14-member steering committee, which will bring in superintendents, or leaders, of each of the schools, Webb, and the plant managers, to oversee the academy. They will be in charge of the actual running of the academy — Webb compared this committee to a district’s board of education.

There are no other academies like this in the state, Webb said, but there are in other states, such as California, Georgia and Tennessee. They have plans to visit the latter two to see how their systems operate.

“I’m really excited about the people we’ve got working on this — they are the people we need working on it,” Webb said. “Everyone has bought in and they’re moving forward quickly.”