$2 million grant aims to prepare Kentucky students for technical - WDRB 41 Louisville News

$2 million grant aims to prepare Kentucky students for technical jobs

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For Robert Williams, college was not in his DNA. He grew up watching his dad work with his hands.

"A lot of it was holding a flashlight for dad, stuff like that," Williams said. "It wasn't me and my brother got to go ride our bikes with the kids down the street. Dad had us (in the garage) helping him."

He says he is already passing up many of his high school classmates.

"I'm two steps ahead of them," Williams said during a press conference Wednesday in Frankfort.

Next to him, his boss, Rich Gimmel, asked, "How's that?"

"I don't owe any money," Williams responded, as the audience erupted with laughter and applause.

In high school, Williams took shop classes, and after high school through an apprenticeship, he was paid to work and learn skills for four years. Now, he's a machinist at Atlas Machine and Supply.

"The hardest part about the apprenticeship was learning the trade so quickly," he said. "Skilled trade, there's a lot to learn. Your first year, it's a bad year, stressful, you don't think you're gonna make it, but nobody said it's easy."

At 22, he is making $22 an hour. The manufacturing jobs in Kentucky are there, but the skilled workers are not.

"Overall in the state, we're blessed with great jobs, and we cannot fill them," said Hal Heiner, Secretary of Education and Workforce Development.

Technical jobs are making a comeback in Kentucky. The positions are there, but the skilled workers are not. 

Kentucky is one out of ten states getting a $2 million grant from JP Morgan Chase to ramp up technical education. It is the latest push for the state in developing skilled workers.

"If we can't fill the jobs that are here today, what is the likelihood that a great company is going to expand here if they have every one of their employees on 48-hour work weeks, and they can't find anyone to fill jobs?" Heiner asked.

"We have a national administration coming in that seems to be determined to grow manufacturing jobs, to reshore manufacturing jobs in this country," said Gimmel, owner of Atlas Machine and Supply. "If we don't have skilled workers to meet that demand, it's going to severely impede our ability to grow this economy."

The $2 million grant will motivate school districts to create career academies. The academies would work together with post-secondary education and employers to help students fill open manufacturing jobs.

"This is huge, what we're talking about today," Heiner said. "It's not just for today and the current students in high school today, but looking, ramping up career and tech education as college with clear pathways."

"These are jobs that pay a middle class wage, with good skills, with good benefits, and despite what some people may think of manufacturing, very stable jobs as well," Gimmel said.

Williams agrees and is glad he stuck to this career path.

"Not a lot of people do it anymore," he said. "There's always going to be a need for it. You're never going to have to worry about being laid off, being out of work ... You can always fall back on it."

The funds will be distributed through a competitive grant process.

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