A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

KY FAME helping to meet workforce need; first cohort graduates from unique apprenticeship program

Improving job skills while working can often be a struggle for today’s technical workers.

Hiring new workers with the appropriate technical skills to replace or move into a growing number of manufacturing openings being made today by a growing number of retiring baby boomers are becoming a significant nationwide challenge for employers.

A new industry and education partnership have brought a formal process in advanced manufacturing and apprenticeships together to create a pipeline of skilled maintenance technicians for regional manufacturers.

The Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) program “is a powerful example and reflection of our intentional partnerships with business and advanced manufacturers, specifically the unique opportunity for students to gain a competitive skill set through hands-on experience in the workplace and learning in the classroom,” said Dr. Anton Reece, president at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

WKCTC launched the partnership with area local businesses and industries 18 months ago and recently saw its first student cohort graduate this month.

The first group of WKCTC students to complete the KY FAME program are (from left to right) Morgan Puckett, Brian Toon, Austin Sanders, Bobby Washer Jr., Joseph Henson, Micah Cunningham, and Aaron Wilkerson (Photo from WKCTC)

“Employers can see and evaluate first-hand the work ethic, technical and essential skills of our students, and provide opportunities for continuing employment in high paying jobs,” Reece said.

Dr. H. Steve Freeman, dean of workforce and economic development at WKCTC and director of the Skilled Craft Training Center where the training for KY FAME takes place, said the program offers education and training for diverse career options in advanced manufacturing that gives a student the opportunity to take the technical knowledge acquired in the classroom and immediately put it to work on the shop floor of a regional manufacturing facility.

Paducah native Micah Cunningham worked at a Wickliffe plant after earning an associate in science degree not long after graduating from Reidland High School in 1999. When he was laid off from that plant, he started working as a warehouse keeper and second-shift lead at iwis — an engine systems manufacturer with a plant in Murray.

When Cunningham learned of the KY FAME opportunity in 2016, he jumped at the offer. “I felt like this was going to be the best opportunity for me to improve myself in the long run and to provide more positive opportunities for my family,” he said.

Cunningham was one of seven students in the inaugural KY FAME cohort who recently graduated from WKCTC with a credential in the Advanced Manufacturing Technology program.

The first cohort graduates and their sponsoring companies are Micah Cunningham of Paducah with iwis; Joseph Henson of Hardin with iwis; Morgan Puckett of Mayfield with Centrifugal Technologies, Inc.; Austin Sanders of Murray with iwis; Brian Toon of Fulton with Vanderbilt Chemical, Bobby Washer Jr., of Puryear, Tenn., with Progress Rail, and Aaron Wilkerson of Hickory with Progress Rail.

Program participants gain on-the-job experience with a sponsoring company 24-hours a week while attending classes at WKCTC two full days a week. Freeman said this allows students to reinforce classroom instruction with paid, hands-on-training.

Members of the first group of WKCTC students to complete the Kentucky Federation for Advancing Manufacturing Education (KY FAME) program are congratulated by Richard Davis (center), vice president of Vanderbilt Chemicals, LLC, during a luncheon at the Skilled Craft Training Center. (Photo from WKCTC)

“After five semesters, students not only earn an applied science associate degree, but their work experience can surge them ahead of their competitors,” Freeman added. “The typical apprentice in this program will graduate without any college debt due to the support of their industry sponsor. This program provides an opportunity for our industries to take a proactive position in determining the quality of the workforce in general and the quality of their individual workforce in particular.”

KY FAME instructor Jonathan Baker said the program’s sponsoring companies, to date, are Briggs and Stratton, Kayser Automotive, Vanderbilt Chemicals, Progress Rail, C.T.I. and iwis.

“We work hand in hand with our local sponsoring businesses to support and build our local economy by providing education that benefits the student and the employer,” Baker said. “This program helps to empower both sponsoring companies and the individual students by providing an education closely fitted to the needs of manufacturers here in western Kentucky.”

Keeping an educated, skilled workforce in the region is vital but a challenge, said Richard Davis, vice president of Vanderbilt Chemical’s Murray Division.

Vanderbilt Chemicals’ Murray location is not the only one of its divisions having trouble keeping up with the need for skilled, technical workers. “Another one of our plants is in the same situation and it’s on the east coast, a highly populated area,” Davis said. “You would think that they would have a better market, but they don’t. It’s a nationwide problem.”

Davis also said many baby boomers who are skilled experts in manufacturing companies nationwide are now retiring or planning to retire in the next few years. While the manufacturing industry has experienced a resurgence in recent years, high-wage employment opportunities in those industries are not being filled.

Programs such as KY FAME, which allows workers an opportunity to work in the area of their technical training as the training takes place and blends theory and application of advanced manufacturing in a real-time environment, can enhance worker’s technical skill level, Freeman said.

“This program is a game changer for the purchase area and we are extremely appreciative of all of our participating industry partners,” he added.

For more information on the KY FAME program, contact Jonathan Baker at (270) 856-2408 or apply for the program online at www.formstack.com

Related Posts

Leave a Comment