Creating career-training opportunities for our high school students

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By Jimmy Higdon

As a member of the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board (KWIB), I have taken part in discussions over the last several years, and advocated to allow students to complete internships and apprenticeships in local industry. Many plant managers I spoke with were happy to accommodate students in the workplace as long as they were 18 years of age, with few exceptions.
Even though the managers’ No. 1 concern was to foster a well-trained, high-quality workforce, they had to err on the side of caution due to liability. This was very evident this past year when we worked on increasing apprenticeships at Area Technology Centers with local industry. Managers were very happy with the new apprenticeship program, but only wanted those 18 years of age and over. As we all know, the majority of students graduate from high school prior to turning 18. Therefore, we continued to push because child labor laws do not prevent 16 and 17 year olds from working as an apprentice or intern in a manufacturing setting, and they are not benefiting from this great opportunity.
Recently, state officials inked a deal that addressed this issue and gave access to younger students. The new program is called the Youth Employment Service (YES) agreement. Under this agreement, Adecco, the global leader in human resources solutions has partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education to promote their YES initiative. In conjunction with premier businesses across Kentucky, Adecco will assist with placing high school students with employers to prepare them for the workforce through cooperative educational placements and pre-apprenticeship programs.
This agreement also gives industry the protection it needs from liability and worker’s comp issues (students will actually work for Adecco and they will assume liabilities). It will allow them to employ students, 16 and 17 years of age, with apprenticeships and internships. The challenge now is to get industry to change their policies on hiring those younger than 18 years of age, so that the initiative can be self-sustainable.
This is exciting news for me because I have advocated for years the need to train students in the workplace environment. Who else should be excited about this?
Industry should be excited. For years managers have struggled with finding qualified and trained employees. Now a company can bring students in for a internship, coop, pre-apprenticeship, apprenticeship, teach them about the company, give them the tools for success, and upon graduation, they have a trained, high-quality employee.
Parents and students should be excited. I hear it every day; "I can't find a job.” With this program a job could find them. I know firsthand that many young people want to work and hold down a part-time job while in high school. Over the years, I have employed hundreds of young people. I do believe that many of my young employees learned many work and life skills while under my supervision.
The community should be excited. If a young person goes to work full-time, right out of high school, they are more likely to stay in their hometown. What a great thing for our kids to have the opportunity to live, work and raise a family in the community they grew up in.
Some may ask if I am encouraging students not to go to college or technical school. The answer is, “no.” Many college-bound students can participate in this program, which will help their applications and give them the foundation of work-place etiquette and expectations.
The statistics show that only 50 percent of our young people will go to college and only about 30 percent of them will finish with a degree.
The idea is not untested. This system of early career and vocational education has been very effective in Germany. It is time for Kentucky to move ahead in better-preparing our young people to be job and career-ready. Now that the YES program is in place, we will continue to tweak it. The main thing needed now is school, parent, student, industry and community buy-in. I am confident that the fruits of this initiative will be proof-positive of the effectiveness of such programs and that the community will be pleased with the results.
If you have any questions about this program, or any other issue, please contact me by calling and leaving a message at the toll-free message line for legislators, 1-800-372-7181. Also, you are welcome to call me at my home, 270-692-6945.
To review the work of the 2014 General Assembly, visit the legislature’s website at www.lrc.ky.gov. Archived meetings and proceedings, as well as interim coverage, can be viewed at www.ket.org.