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WKU Glasgow launches regional workforce development partnership

Glasgow, Ky. – Western Kentucky University’s Glasgow Campus is beginning a new initiative in addressing workforce development issues in the area with the development of a regional alliance.

Dr. Sally Ray, regional chancellor of WKU’s Glasgow Campus, said the new alliance is taking a different approach in addressing this important issue.

“This collaborative initiative has been in the works for over two years,” Ray said. “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 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).

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.”

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 Paragonengages 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.”