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Work Ready grant is focus of BEP meeting at WKCTC

Staff report

Work Ready Skills funding was a focus of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce's Business and Education Partnership (BEP) meeting held at West Kentucky Community and Technical College last week.

Dr. Steve Freeman, WKCTC dean of workforce and economic development, discussed the plan for the $3.04 million in funding the college received with the BEP audience of nearly 100 educators, business and community leaders and WKCTC faculty and staff.

Freeman said according to research into the needs of the region within the five industry sectors the Work Ready Skills Initiative addressed - advanced manufacturing, transportation, health sciences, information technology and business and construction trades - 13,000 jobs are not filled within 50 miles of the WKCTC's Skilled Craft Training Center in Hickory. In addition to western Kentucky, Freeman said the area also includes southern Illinois, northwest Tennessee and southeast Missouri.

'The grant is so important allowing the opportunity to pull up the entire region to continue to build the workforce of tomorrow," said Freeman.

Freeman recognized the regional educational partners who joined forces for the West Kentucky Partnership Work Ready Skills Initiative proposal that garnered the state funding in July.

Partners represented every school district in the region, WKCTC, Fulton and Fulton County, Mayfield and Graves County, Murray and Calloway County Paducah McCracken County Area Technology Centers, Ballard County, Marshall County Career and Technology Centers, Murray State University, and UK School of Engineering at Paducah. Other partners included Head Start, Adult Education, numerous businesses and several Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development groups.

Freeman shared with the BEP audience how the grant funding will be disbursed within the region.

Career and Area Technical Centers:

Ballard County CTC - $247,220

Fulton County ATC - $405,266

Marshall County CTC - $349,974

Mayfield Graves County ATC - $403,268

Murray-Calloway County ATC - $438,002

Paducah ATC - $408,333

WKCTC will also distribute $268,786 to area high schools for online computer labs to expand dual credit and online courses for adults.

The college's portion of the funding, $509,298, will go toward enhancing its transportation and advanced manufacturing courses at the Skilled Craft Training Center. The remaining $9,850 will go toward marketing.

"The Work Ready Skills Grant award is a regional "game changer" for educational access, and meeting relevant workforce training needs," said WKCTC President Dr. Anton Reece. "WKCTC salutes our regional partners and look forward to ongoing collaboration."

Paducah Independent Schools received $3.8 million in grant funding. Monica Bilak, business and workforce relations coordinator for the school district, spoke to the audience about the plan for their funding with the Paducah Innovation Hub Project. Bilak said the project will create a state of the art technology center with a Makerspace environment to be completed in approximately two years.

Bilak thanked the partners of the Innovation Hub initiative, and said the next step is to develop a prototype of the project in the coming months.

McCracken County High School's Public Relations director, Jayme Jones also discussed the $8 million proposal for a new skills center at the school recently submitted for the next round of grant funding. Jones said she should find out in May if the school will receive grant funding.

The Kentucky Work Ready Skills Initiative was created to build a highly trained, modernized workforce in the Commonwealth to meet the needs of employers and promote sustainable incomes for Kentuckians. The initiative encouraged private sector employers, high schools or secondary technical schools, and postsecondary institutions, among other entities, to develop partnerships and submit applications for projects that will aid in workforce training and education.

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