Eastern Kentucky, as well as the entire Commonwealth, is facing significant challenges when it comes to getting our students fully equipped for the workforce. In a time when sectors like manufacturing, nursing, and more are facing shortages in skilled workers, we must be laser-focused on improving career and technical education, so that our students are prepared to fill the jobs of the 21st century.
I have a good bit of experience with this topic. I was a welding student and eventually taught in career and technical education before becoming the chief executive officer and administrator of a technical college. One of my proudest achievements is that we launched the first dual credit program between career and technical education and technical colleges in 1998-99. I have seen the tremendous impact that career and technical education can make on a young person’s life and know that, when done right, our state can make tremendous strides.
The Dual Credit Scholarship is a perfect illustration of that. This program provides an opportunity for students to receive both postsecondary and high school class credit for up to two classes taken during an individual year in high school, and is proof that we are moving in the right direction with career and technical education.
With that in mind, I am proud to have been chosen to co-chair a new task force in the General Assembly, the Kentucky Career and Technical Education Task Force. Our bipartisan group, which includes members from both the House and Senate, will examine which programs are effective, as well as whether present funding for our programs is adequate to meet the challenges we face.
Our state has no doubt made progress on promoting programs geared at providing more career opportunities for our students. Career and technical education programs are on the rise, in large part thanks to educators who are dedicated to their profession and passionate about preparing young people for the jobs of the future. We also have many students who are striving to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to become contributing members of the workforce.
This includes our students who are increasingly taking part in career and technical education coursework, ranging from engineering and automotive studies to health sciences and information technology. Many young people are also getting ahead on college coursework through Advanced Placement and Dual Credit courses, which allow them to both gain college experience while still in high school and reduce the cost of their postsecondary education.
But while career and technical education have grown by leaps and bounds, that doesn’t mean that we aren’t facing daunting challenges. Our workforce participation rate remains well below the national average, suggesting that we still have lots of work to do to properly equip our young adults for what lies beyond. While there are a variety of factors that contribute to low workforce engagement, an education system in need of modernization is certainly one of them. Shortages in skilled workers continue to exist, leaving many oftentimes high-paying jobs unfilled.
We also must work to measure the overall effectiveness of existing programs, to be sure that they are providing high quality opportunities to the next generation. And funding, of course, is always something we must monitor and look at moving forward, which is no easy task in the tight budget environment our state is in.
Our citizens here in the mountains are hardworking and dedicated to their families and communities. But our state government must also work to ensure that we are giving a hand up to those hardworking citizens – and one way to do that is through a quality education. Our working group just started meeting and laying out our overall goals, and I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities in front of us.
I look forward to working in cooperation with Republicans and Democrats, educators and small business owners, and anyone else with an interest in preparing our citizens to meet today’s demands and tomorrow’s challenges. That’s what our task force is all about.
Rep. Bobby McCool represents the 97th House District, which includes Johnson, Morgan, and Wolfe counties. Contact him with any questions, concerns, or advice. He can be reached through the toll-free message line in Frankfort at 1-800-372-7181, or via e-mail at Bobby.McCool@lrc.ky.gov.