It was a major promise of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. Our kids would be better educated for the world of work.
Still, more than 22 years later, the Community Recorder newspaper in Kenton County reports: “Manufacturers struggle to fill jobs.”
And, the article points to education as part of the problem, saying:
“Even with a regional unemployment rate of 7.5 percent for the month of May, manufacturers around Northern Kentucky have high-paying positions that go unfilled because they’re having a hard time finding workers with the skills necessary to do the job.”
However, the article really doesn’t bring out how our under-performing public education system is a major contributor to unfilled manufacturing jobs, so let me add some information.
The latest available data from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education regarding remedial course requirements for recent high school graduates entering the state’s two-year Kentucky Community and Technical College System’s institutions show far too many grads, on average nearly 40 percent, don’t get the education they need from the state’s K to 12 system.
If we really want to open up manufacturing job opportunities for our kids, we have to recognize and remove those K to 12 school system deficiencies that make it very hard for students to get the postsecondary education critical to obtaining those jobs.
By the way, we’re not talking low-paying jobs here. The Recorder article says open, unfilled manufacturing jobs in Northern Kentucky pay from $53,000 to as much as $80,000, once overtime is considered.
Manufacturing job openings are going to increase in the next few years in Northern Kentucky, as well, because many of the people currently working in manufacturing are approaching retirement.
For example, the Mazak Corporation, which makes machine tools and employs 600 in Northern Kentucky, estimates that it will lose 52 percent of its skilled workforce in the next decade.
Rick Jordan, vice president of LSI Graphic Solutions Plus in Erlanger, says:
“We’re looking at it as a marketing problem because there’s really no pipeline of people coming through high schools into the technical college.”
Well, it’s more than a marketing problem. While much of the article focuses on the shortage of students going into two-year technical programs after high school, it really only hints at how the K to 12 school system contributes to the issue.
For example, according to the newspaper, Jan Hillard, associate provost for research, graduate studies and regional stewardship at Northern Kentucky University said:
“Middle school students are given ACT’s Explore test, which can identify ‘whether a student has a proclivity toward manufacturing.’ But the test isn’t always fully utilized, ‘a function of how busy school counselors are with issues other than career planning.’”
However, as the table above points out, there is a lot more to the K to 12 schools’ part of story that the newspaper didn’t cover.
The facts are that, more than 22 years after KERA was enacted, far too many kids still leave Kentucky’s high schools without the basic math, reading and English skills and knowledge they need to succeed in either a two-year or four-year postsecondary education program.
When you throw in the fact that many are also under-prepared in science (the Council on Postsecondary Education does not report on remedial needs in this important area), it’s no surprise that many really good, very nice-paying jobs are going begging.