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Op-Ed: Covington Schools Offer Workforce Solutions in NKY

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s recent announcement that the state will establish a scholarship program to help pay tuition for students pursuing two-year degrees in “high-demand workforce sectors” is an affirmation of the Career Technical Education (CTE) program that has been established at Holmes High School and a blessing to students who participate in this program.

In a statement issued earlier this month, Gov. Bevin said Kentucky “is committed to increasing the currently low workforce participation rate by expanding the skilled, competitive workforce necessary to attract new businesses to the state.” The school board, faculty, and staff at Covington Independent Public Schools have the same commitment. That’s why we transformed the Chapman Career and Technical on the Holmes campus to support the CTE program.

While Holmes offers excellent college preparatory classes for those interested in attending four-year colleges or universities, our CTE program offers an opportunity for those students who want to go straight into the workforce immediately following high school graduation.

At Covington public schools, we recognize that the traditional four-year college-degree tract isn’t for everyone. A great number of training opportunities, career paths, and high-paying jobs are available to those who have been trained in high-demand workforce areas, such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, healthcare, information technology, and construction.

In conversations with local employers, they have told us of a serious lack of skilled workers for these types of jobs. Just in the manufacturing sector, they tell us that between 500 to 1,000 manufacturing jobs are available but not able to be filled in Northern Kentucky region right now.

To address this need, over the past couple of years, our school district has worked hard to transform our vocational curriculum into a program that prepares students for a 21st-century workforce. Now, students who receive diplomas from Holmes High School are not only college-ready but also career-ready on Day One after graduation.

The U.S. Department of Labor projects that of the 11 fastest growing professions in the United States, eight require less than a bachelor’s degree. Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center of Education and Workforce, told National Public Radio earlier this year that the average electrician makes $5,000 more a year than the average college graduate.

“The baby-boom workers are retiring and leaving lots of openings for millennials,” Carnevale said. “You can get a particular skill in a particular field and make more money than a college graduate.”

USA Today recently reported that an estimated 2.5 million new, middle-skill jobs are expected to be added to the nation’s workforce this year, accounting for nearly half of all job growth.

One area of tremendous growth and opportunity that may surprise many people is manufacturing. While political rhetoric often bemoans the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs, USA Today reported a resurgence of these jobs in recent years “as American companies have found that moving jobs offshore was not a good approach for production that requires highly skilled labor.”

In the CTE program at Holmes High School, we offer career pathways in advanced manufacturing/welding; carpentry and construction; media arts; IT/networking; and health science, including three separate pathways in pre-nursing, allied health, and biomedical sciences; business programs with multiple pathways; and a Marine Corps MJROTC program focused on leadership. Next year, we expect to have a program focusing on logistics and supply-chain management available to our students.

Holmes students who participate in CTE classes can obtain college credits that may be used at both career and technical colleges and four-year institutions in Kentucky. For instance, a student participating in our advanced manufacturing/welding program can obtain more than 20 college-credit hours. These students also have an opportunity to obtain industry certifications in certain fields because of their training and experience.

When you add these college-credit and industry-certification opportunities to the new scholarships that soon will be made available to students through the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program, the opportunities for our students – and for our region and state – are boundless.

Alvin Garrison is Superintendent of Covington Independent Public Schools