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Northern Kentucky | Education sector partners when it can with specific employers as it hones students’ skills

By Abby Laub

Customized workforce training for individual employers is one of the many examples of how Northern Kentucky’s educators are meeting the needs not only of young people but those already in the workforce looking to expand their careers.

With Gateway Community & Technical College’s Workforce Solutions program, educators are going directly to employers and working across all demographics to create a better skilled workforce for the entire region and state.

Carissa Schutzman, Vice President, Gateway Community and Technical College Workforce Solutions
Carissa Schutzman, Vice President, Gateway Community and Technical College Workforce Solutions

“We deliver a lot of training on site at companies, and we can change the curriculum to meet the company’s needs,” said Carissa Schutzman, vice president of Gateway Workforce Solutions, adding that participating employees at a company oftentimes eventually end up enrolling in one of Gateway’s degree or certificate programs or attending a partner four-year university.

In Workforce Solutions, an individual company identifies a “pain point” or skills gap and Gateway then conducts a needs analysis and creates a program, ranging from “soft” teamwork and performance skills to more technical abilities. Many of these skills also are refined in Gateway’s academic programs.

“We’re always listening to the needs of our employers because we want to produce graduates who can fill skills gaps in our area,” said Dr. Teri VonHandorf, Gateway vice president of Academic Affairs, adding that many students are hired immediately. “One of our logistics employers made the comment that Greater Cincinnati is the Silicon Valley of logistics, manufacturing and transportation.”

Gateway President Dr. Fernando Figueroa noted the correlation between the workforce development efforts and the regional economy.

“Gateway is integral to the economic success and growth of Northern Kentucky,” said Figueroa. “If we want to improve our community or quality of life, we must increase the number of educated individuals who are able to earn a living wage and beyond.”

The Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education
(KY FAME) also has a chapter in Northern Kentucky, helping create a pipeline of skilled workers to fill thousands of area jobs.

Teri VonHandorf, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Gateway Community and Technical College
Teri VonHandorf, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Gateway Community and Technical College

Training starts young

For some, the training will start in high school, such as at the Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology. It allows students to earn a leg up in the fields of informatics, media arts, robotics engineering and others, including special encouragement for women in engineering. In the academy’s fifth year nearly 800 students are enrolled, with biomedical sciences being the most highly attended program.

The academies teach leadership, critical thinking, professional writing, collaboration, projects and proposals,
and presentations.

“All of our academies are geared toward not just the job market of Northern Kentucky but the job market for America,” said Kenton County School District’s Director of Innovation Education Francis O’Hara. “Whether it’s KY FAME or Toyota, all of them are saying they love our scholars; they love what we’re doing. A lot of these people will come back to the Northern Kentucky area; that’s sort of the dream. We’ve invested in them here.”

Dozens of gifted local students venture to the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science at Western Kentucky University to get a big jump on their college studies. The Gatton Academy is the state’s first college level residential high school for students interested in pursuing advanced careers in
science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year, Gatton has
more than 75 students enrolled from Northern Kentucky.

“Northern Kentucky is certainly an important part of our mission to represent the entire state,” said Zack Ryle, Gatton Academy assistant director of admissions and public relations. “Our goal really is, we’re opening the door to students who have the ability to pursue further their careers even earlier.”

About 70 percent of the students stay in the state of Kentucky after Gatton.

NKU’s Health Innovation Center

Other institutions in Northern Kentucky are investing in students in other valuable ways, too.

mrnk-cover300More than 15,000 students attend Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, where a $97 million Health Innovation Center is set to open in 2018. It will be home to the College of Health Professions and will also bring together experts from each of NKU’s six colleges, who will create transdisciplinary teams to study health care from new perspectives. St. Elizabeth Healthcare invested $8 million to construct and equip the two-story, state-of-the-art St. Elizabeth Healthcare Simulation Center.

The College of Informatics at NKU is one of the most advanced programs of its kind in the nation and hosts the UpTech start-up business incubator that attracts entrepreneurs from across the United States.

NKU also is working with students to find better jobs during college. In August 2016 the school announced an Education at Work initiative, opening up 200 on-campus part time jobs.

Meanwhile in Florence, Backfield College offers a wide range of programs, including nursing, criminal justice and paralegal studies.

In Erlanger, St. Elizabeth Healthcare recently turned the former METS Center events facility into a state-of-the-art, free-standing Education and Training Center, including a rare Simulation Center.

For more traditional liberal arts education, Thomas More College in Crestview Hills serves nearly 2,000 students. Thomas More is celebrating its ranking as the No. 1 college for return on investment for 2015 and 2016 in the state of Kentucky, according to PayScale Inc. Thomas More also was recognized as a Catholic College of Distinction for 2015-16 by Colleges of Distinction.

Thomas More boasts impressive accolades; 96 percent of its 2014-15 graduates were employed or in graduate school six months after graduation.

Students in Northern Kentucky are within a 200-mile radius of many major advanced education institutions: University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, Cincinnati State, University of Dayton, University of Kentucky, The Ohio State University, Georgetown College, University of Louisville, Purdue University, Indiana University, Bellarmine University, Centre College and Miami University.