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Work Ready Skills Initiative Grant a Game Changer for Western Kentucky

Published on Oct 17, 2017

PADUCAH, KY (10/16/2017) Educators in western Kentucky called a $3.04 million Work Ready Skills Initiative Grant a "game changer" for the citizen of western Kentucky during a ceremonial agreement signing at West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) Monday, October 16.

Fulton County Schools Superintendent Aaron Collins said the funds provided by the grant will allow computer labs to be added at every high school in WKCTC's 10-county service area as well as will provide new equipment for area technology centers and career & technical centers.

"This grant will have an immediate impact," Collin told the audience before a ceremonial signing of a memorandum of agreement between WKCTC and its secondary education partners. "This is a game changer for western Kentucky. Manufacturers, we now have 21st-century equipment that is training 21st-century employees and we're ready to go to work today."

In 2016, Governor Matt Bevin launched a statewide "Work Ready Skills Initiative" (KWRSI) funded through $100 million in statewide bonds and overseen by the Kentucky Cabinet for Workforce and Education. Funds were awarded to 40 applicants to improve the skill level of the Kentucky workforce in five designated industry sectors - advanced manufacturing, business and information technology, construction technology, health sciences, and transportation. Locally driven projects were awarded during two rounds of competition in 2016 and 2017 and include all regions of Kentucky. The goal of the initiative was to provide resources to expand career and technical education facilities and upgrade equipment in those schools through local partnerships between private industry and educational institutions.

WKCTC was awarded a $3.04 million Work Ready Skills Initiative grant to distribute to area technology centers and career & technical centers in five counties as well as 11 area high schools in WKCTC's 10-county service region. The partners, all members of West Kentucky Work Ready Skills Consortium (WKWRSIC), are WKCTC, the Ballard County School District, Calloway County School District, Carlisle County School District, Fulton County School District, Fulton Independent School District, Graves County School District, Hickman County School District, Marshall County School District, Mayfield Independent School District, McCracken County School District, Murray Independent School District, and Paducah Independent School District. The consortium also included additional members such as West Kentucky Workforce Board, Murray State University, University of Kentucky College of Engineering at Paducah, Adult Educational-Skills You across the region, Kentucky Farm Workers, regional HeadStart programs, and numerous other agencies.

Collins praised the individuals who worked diligently on the grant application. In particular, he thanked Mary Anne Medlock, special projects coordinator for the Purchase Area Development District, for having the foresight to bring together a variety of education and community entities to work collectively to secure the grant. Collins also thanked WKCTC officials and Robbie Rudolph, founder of the Four Rivers Foundation, for offering resources and support.

Medlock said the cooperation of the many educational partners was essential for securing the grant. "Everyone pitched in to support the area technology centers and to make their centers to be something that is going to be very exciting," she said. "Not just for our high school students but (also for) adults who want to go back and earn a certificate that will help them be able to get a job that will lead to a self-sufficient wage."

The Work Ready Skills Initiative, passed and funded by the General Assembly, is administered by the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet with support from the Cabinet for Economic Development. It is overseen by a board that includes the secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, the secretary of the Labor Cabinet, the chair of the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, three employers nominated by the Governor, one member nominated by the speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives and one nominated by the president of the Kentucky Senate.

Dr. Wayne D. Lewis, executive director of education policy & programs in the Kentucky Education & Workforce Development Cabinet, said the initiative was in response to some of the extreme challenges facing the Commonwealth of Kentucky. "The reality is that too many Kentuckians are not working. The reality is that too many young people are making their way through our educational institutions not prepared to fulfill the lives that they could have or could lead," Dr. Lewis said. "So the combination of the vision on the part of our state leaders and the work that you're doing right here on the ground in western Kentucky has come together in this grant and is giving us the opportunity to do something incredibly special."

WKCTC President Anton Reece said being able to expand access to education and training for citizens throughout western Kentucky is a significant benefit of this grant. "I have been fortunate to see first-hand the needs, the challenges and the opportunities that this sort of grant will be able to provide and to see it happen collectively and cooperatively, to me, speaks a lot about our potential as a region," Reece said. "I'm absolutely tickled to death for the generation of students who, because of this grant, will be able to get their respective academic, career and technical dreams fulfilled."

The October 16's ceremonial signing can be viewed at