Work Ready KY Scholarship: Free tuition for high-demand careers

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If I gave you $15.9 million to make the biggest impact on Kentucky’s future workforce, how would you invest it to get the biggest bang for your buck?

We are in a workforce crisis. Our state has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the country. Many business expansions in the Commonwealth are currently on hold because of a shortage of qualified workers. In order to fill these critically important jobs, we must move swiftly to raise skill and education levels for Kentuckians of all ages.

Business leaders from all regions of Kentucky have identified five key employment sectors that are in critical need of skilled workers. These sectors are:

•advanced manufacturing
•business services /information technology
•construction trades
•healthcare
•transportation/logistics

Right now, these unfilled jobs are holding our state back. The majority of these jobs pay anywhere from $13 to $30 an hour or more – the only catch is they require at least some level of education beyond high school.

Now, back to the $15.9 million question: What would you do to help grow Kentucky’s workforce and economy?

In December, Gov. Matt Bevin made a plan to invest $15.9 million in fast-track skill certifications for those who have graduated from high school or earned a GED, but not earned a college degree, through the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship. In other words, these funds will ensure free tuition to allow a Kentuckian of any age to pursue education for a career in a field of tremendous job opportunity. This investment is exactly what Kentucky needs to transform our economy and produced highly skilled workers and elevate Kentucky’s standard of living.

In late May, the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet launched a statewide outreach campaign, called Help Wanted Kentucky, aimed at informing Kentuckians about this opportunity for free tuition for high-demand careers. You can visit helpwantedky.com to find out your eligibility, and what in-demand careers you can study. You can also text “JOBSKY” to 66186 for information on the program to be sent to your mobile device.

Helpwantedky.com is a good source to learn about Kentucky’s high-demand careers. The regional pages show average salary data for the in-demand jobs in those regions. The sector pages provide a link to careeronestop.org where users can find job descriptions and salary information on numerous other occupations in the state.

Even if someone isn’t eligible for the scholarship, but is thinking about training for a new career, the site provides links to information that can help them make an informed decision when choosing a new career route.

We need critical support today for the worker displaced from their job by the technology revolution. This revolution is fundamentally changing the workplace and increasing the skill and education requirements for the best jobs. Help Wanted Kentucky is focused on filling this critical education need. For example, Kentucky needs electricians. With technology moving at light speed, and the average age of electricians in some areas of the state approaching 60, the opportunities for this highly paid career have likely never been better. Through the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, eligible Kentuckians can go to college to receive an electrician certification, or scores of other certifications, beginning this fall. As a bonus, the certificate hours would also build towards the student’s associate’s degree.

As the outreach efforts begin through Help Wanted Kentucky, our community college system, and other agencies, we should all encourage our friends, relatives and neighbors to make the most of this opportunity to start or improve a great career. It’s a win-win. Kentuckians of any age win by earning higher incomes and a better job. Our economy wins through an increasingly skilled and educated workforce, which allows us to attract the best new jobs to Kentucky.

Through Help Wanted Kentucky and the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship, the opportunity to change the face of our workforce and enhance the lives of Kentuckians is yours for the taking. Visit helpwantedky.com to learn how you or someone in your family can benefit from this investment.

Hal Heiner is secretary of the Kentucky Education & Workforce Development Cabinet.

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