WKU’s Glasgow Campus has taken the lead in addressing workforce issues in the region with the development of a regional workforce alliance. According to Dr. Sally Ray, Regional Chancellor of WKU’s Glasgow Campus, this project has been in the planning for quite some time and while other efforts have been attempted to address this extremely important issue, Ray said the new alliance is taking a different approach.
“This collaborative initiative has been in the works for over two years,” said Ray. “We are bringing together three critical components that create a powerful system to address workforce needs immediately in southcentral Kentucky. This approach is completely new and different from the more institutional approaches we’ve seen in the past.”
The system includes three innovative initiatives: Earn and Learn opportunities for college students which serves to broaden the labor pool; Project Paragon, a process to identify employer needs; and a third component which provides educational programming and workforce readiness training programs for current and future employees in the region.
Partners in the project include Glasgow-Barren County Industrial Development and Economic Authority (IDEA), Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College Glasgow Tech Campus (SKYCTC), and the Barren River Area Development District (BRADD).
Coordinated with the governor’s office by local state Rep. Johnny Bell, a large contingent of area officials traveled to Frankfort last month to meet with Gov. Steve Beshear to discuss the group’s work. Attending the meeting along with partnership members were: Rep. Bell; Sen. David Givens; Akebono Brake Corporation President & CEO Yoshimasa Ogino; Akebono Brake Glasgow Plant Manager Jeff Simons; Akebono Brake Glasgow HR Manager Michael Blackburn; Barren County-Glasgow Industrial Development and Economic Development Director Dan Iacconi; Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale; Glasgow Mayor Dick Doty; Barren River Area Development District (BRADD) Executive Director Rodney Kirtley. Joining Gov. Beshear at the meeting were members of the governor’s senior staff Larry Bond and Roger Thomas; Deputy Secretary Cabinet for Economic Development Erik Dunnigan; and Executive Director of Workforce Development, Cabinet for Economic Development, Josh Benton.
“I applaud this effort to develop this regional workforce alliance,” Gov. Beshear said. “As I have traveled the world looking for new jobs and opportunities for Kentuckians, the top issue I hear from all companies has to do with finding and training qualified workers. Having this comprehensive approach involving business, education and government will be a major selling point to companies considering Kentucky for a new location or an expansion, and it should enhance our record setting economic development efforts in Kentucky.”
After a nearly hourlong meeting, Doty said the entire group came away with a great sense of optimism and excitement about what it will mean for so many employers across the region and state.
“Everyone in the meeting was very positive and engaged,” Doty said. “The discussion was meaningful and positive, as well. In Glasgow and Barren County, for example, we have existing employers who made a commitment to establish a company here. With that commitment comes a responsibility to find ways to meet their needs. This alliance is designed to do just that. So yes, we are very optimistic.”
Dan Iacconi, Executive Director of IDEA, which serves economic development needs throughout Barren County, has been heavily involved in the design and is excited about what it will mean for companies in the region.
“The WKU Glasgow and SKYCTC Glasgow Tech Campuses have the flexibility to respond to workforce challenges in southcentral Kentucky,” Iacconi said. “It’s an ideal situation.”
As a response to increased product demand, the Akebono Brake plant in Glasgow announced a new College Weekend Program that will employ students on a Saturday-Sunday shift with a starting wage of $13.25 per hour. In addition, the company will reimburse 50 percent of the tuition to students who successfully complete the semester. According to Akebono’s plant manager, Jeff Simons, the initial response has been positive.
“Last weekend we started a cohort of 10 in the program,” Simons said. “We have 10 more starting this weekend.”
The program is a great opportunity for college students. Jay Todd Richey, WKU Student Government Association President, believes the program will make a tremendous difference for some WKU students.
“The new Akebono-WKU Glasgow Weekend College Program is the perfect opportunity for students looking to work part-time on weekends and pay back their student loans and cost of tuition,” Richey said.
A regional Earn and Learn plan for southcentral Kentucky based off the highly successful Metropolitan College model that supports UPS in Louisville offers a tremendous opportunity to address critical workforce shortages, according to Ray.
In addition to broadening the labor pool with Earn and Learn programs, Project Paragon engages business and industry in a data-rich applied research undertaking to analyze the educational and training needs employers identify as skill gaps in new hires and current workers. Based on these findings, Paragon will team with WKU Glasgow on educational and training initiatives to proactively develop the region’s workforce. Michael Lovett, founder and senior partner of HRD Strategies in Greensboro, N.C., has been selected to lead the project.
According to Lovett, “Kentucky, like many states, is in the midst of reshaping its economic development strategies to address the collective rather than individual needs of industries. This collective focus is known as ‘industry clusters.’ Clusters are simply alliances of related companies within a given area that have common business needs including similar suppliers, processes, and workforce skills. Clusters have enhanced the strength of regional economies and become a common goal of public sector economic development.”
What sets Paragon apart from other workforce development strategies, is a highly focused, data-driven approach for isolating employer needs and then connecting those needs to education and training.
Barren County Judge-Executive Micheal Hale, who serves on the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, has been looking for an effective, yet broadly applied approach to what appears to be a workforce education disconnect. “Kentucky’s economic vitality depends on a comprehensive strategy that includes educational innovation and the workforce necessary to advance it,” Hale said. “WKU Glasgow’s regional workforce alliance is a step in the right direction and the most promising approach I’ve seen to date.”
Contact: Sally Ray, (270) 659-6900; or Dan Iacconi, (270) 651-6314