KYSHRM Annual Conference Keynote Address

Good afternoon and thank you for having me today to talk about the important issue of meeting Kentucky’s workforce challenges.

Over the next few minutes, I’ll tell you about

the new KCTCS strategic plan;

the statewide research we did to help develop it;

how we’re working with businesses around the state; and

how our plans and programs mesh with state government and state organizations, like the Kentucky Chamber and the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers.

It’s nearly impossible to believe the Kentucky Community and Technical College System is now 18 years old.

We’ve made great strides in meeting our mission to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians during that time.

In fact, since we were created in 1998, we have served nearly 835,000 people.

We’re proud of all we’ve achieved, but we can’t be stuck in the past or do things the way we’ve always done them. We are focusing on the future and how we plan to move forward.

We have work to do and a new plan for how we’ll do it.

All of our focus is on student success and training people for good jobs …whether that means they earn credentials in career education and go right to work, or transfer to one of our four-year partners.

When I began this job about 18 months ago, I spent a lot of time thinking about my goals and aspirations for KCTCS.

As you can imagine, we focus a great deal of our resources on recruitment and helping people of all ages enroll in a college program.

For me, that’s not enough. My goal is for students not only to enroll in college, but also to complete college.

That’s more difficult for many of our students than you might think. The average age of our students is 27, so many of them are juggling family and jobs along with college.

Job responsibilities, sick children and other life issues get in the way, and sometimes college moves to the back burner.

We also lose them when the economy improves. They get jobs and drop out before completing their programs. Don’t get me wrong. We’re happy they’re employed.

But we have to find ways to get them to stick with their program even after they go back to work.
This is becoming more important than ever before. 

Our state faces many changes in the workforce and job outlook over the next several years. We know that most jobs already require some type of postsecondary credential, and that will only continue to increase.

We also know that a large number of our workforce will be retiring as Baby Boomers are reaching retirement age in droves.

Even though unemployment is low, many people are working in jobs that don’t pay well.
That’s mainly because a large portion of Kentucky’s workforce is undereducated.

As you know, we have a big barrier in our state when it comes to convincing people how important higher education is. It’s a cultural issue that won’t change overnight.

But, that doesn’t mean we won’t try to change it.

I’ve spent much of the last year or so working with internal teams and organizations from around the state to develop our new strategic plan.

The goal was to align our plan with state agencies and associations so we’re all focused on a strategic vision for Kentucky and Kentucky jobs.

My team and I traveled around the state gathering information for the plan from people from all walks of life.

We received input from more than 4,000 community members, business leaders, students and employees.

Our colleges also played host to Innovation Roundtables, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in nine economic regions of the state. Those were conducted to further refine the plan’s vision, values and goals.

During that time, we also put together Business Champion councils at every college. These folks are some of our many business partners from throughout the state who are hiring our graduates.

They’ve been helpful in letting us know what we’re doing right and what we can improve.
We used all of this input to develop the strategic plan, which is now complete.

We are focusing on several goals as we move forward over the next six years.

First, we’ll work toward raising the level of educational attainment in the Commonwealth by positioning KCTCS as the accessible, affordable and relevant postsecondary education choice for Kentuckians.

Second, we will increase access and success for all KCTCS students, particularly among traditionally underserved populations.

Third, we’ll develop clear pathways through all levels of postsecondary education with an emphasis on experiential learning that leads to successful employment outcomes for KCTCS graduates.

Fourth, we plan to improve student engagement, support, experiences and success with best-in-class academic and student services.

Last, and the goal that affects you most… we’ll continue to align programs and curricula with needs of employers that enhance the employability, job placement and career development of KCTCS graduates.

You may recall that last summer the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce issued a report on the state’s workforce and the challenges employers are facing. The report said we have too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people. We agree with that assessment, and it played a big role in the development of our plan.

I don’t have to tell you that many good, high paying jobs are not being filled because people don’t have the training and skills needed. This is where we come in, and one of the key points I want to make.

KCTCS is the place for people to go if they want to get trained quickly for high wage, high demand jobs.

Yes, we also are where thousands of students earn associate degrees and transfer to four-year universities, but preparing people for careers in fields that don’t require a bachelor’s degree is just as important to us. It is the key to prosperity for students and for our state.

Even though we’re doing a good job of training our students for specific jobs, we’ve heard loud and clear from employers that students are coming to them with a lack of soft skills. 

Again, that’s why we made it part of our strategic plan.

We are implementing more of that type of learning in our curriculum because it is so important to success in the workplace.

Because we know education is the best way to empower people… and that a good job is the first step to economic prosperity, I want to tell you a bit about our partnerships with our business champions and other business leaders. 

In our last fiscal year, through our Workforce Solutions program we served nearly fifty-six hundred businesses and trained more than 41,000 workers. That’s a large number of people who improved their skills just last year.

One of the most popular workforce initiatives we are involved in is KY FAME, which is now in most areas of the state. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, KY FAME is the Kentucky Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education.

It’s a partnership between KCTCS colleges and local businesses in which students engage in a work and learn, apprenticeship-style program. Students learn specific skills directly in a workplace environment while receiving classroom instruction.

They earn college credit in advanced manufacturing technology and a salary while preparing for a full-time job.

We all know we live in a different day and age than our parents and grandparents…particularly when it comes to manufacturing.

Through programs like KY FAME, we are showing today’s generation that they can use their technology skills while working in a clean environment, earning a good salary without a four-year degree.

Employers have told us they’d like our colleges to provide more of these types of programs, so we are looking at ways to expand into areas outside of manufacturing.

I hope this overview of our plan to move forward shows we’ve listened to our business partners and made their needs a priority.

Before I wrap up, I want to take a few minutes to talk about something else that is very important to KCTCS and to our state leaders.

And that is dual credit.

In case you aren’t familiar with that, dual credit is a program that allows high school students to enroll in classes in which they receive high school and college credit.

We have students who have earned an associate degree and high school diploma at the same time, so this is an important program for students.

This summer, we announced the KCTCS Junior Dual Credit Scholarship, which allows high school juniors to take one free dual credit course. Our scholarship dovetails nicely with the new state dual credit scholarship.

KCTCS is the state’s leader in dual credit education, so we are very appreciative of the governor’s initiative called the Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship, which allows high school students to take two free classes. His goal is for all students to graduate with at least nine hours of postsecondary credit hours.

We’ve set aside $600,000 for the KCTCS scholarship that will help students meet the governor’s goal.

I’ve talked about a lot of things KCTCS is doing and how they relate to our mission. We believe we are in lock step and headed down the same path as Gov. Bevin and Sec. Heiner when it comes to education and workforce development. And it’s the right path for our students, our communities and our state.

When we say our mission is to improve the lives and employability of Kentuckians … those aren’t just words.

It’s what we do.

It’s why we’re here.

And we live it every day as we try to help people fulfil their dreams of becoming educated so they can get a good job and support their families.

As Thurgood Marshall once said, “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, or someone – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” 

The faculty and staff of KCTCS are picking up boots all across the state because working in education is a calling.

We are proud to be servant leaders and help people fulfil their dreams.

Thanks so much for having me today.

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