HAZARD — The Appalachian Teaching and Leadership Network (ATLN) has started a new initiative to help improve and grow the local economies in Eastern Kentucky.
ATLN has teamed up with the Kentucky River Area Development District (KRADD) and the Big Sandy Area Development District, along with the 13 counties in the ATLN service area, to help the area become a Kentucky Work Ready Community.
Ron Daley, Hazard Community and Technical College’s senior director of advancement, presented the initiative at last month’s KRADD meeting alongside Melissa Quillen, a regional program manager with the state Office of Employment and Training who represents 23 counties in the Eastern Kentucky region.
Daley said what the Work Ready program aims to do is improve the state’s work force so that more employers will want to come to the state. He, along with education and community leaders in the region, hope to take that program a step further in Eastern Kentucky to help improve employment conditions.
“Our goal is to create the first rural edu-conomy empowerment zone in the nation. And what we’re trying to do is raise education levels, tie it to job creation and job growth, which you would think that that’s a natural thing that should be easy to be done but it has not been done,” Daley explained at last month’s KRADD meeting.
Daley said he and others who are working on this initiative are travelling to counties and area development districts across the region to present their ideas to community leaders and begin implementation of this plan in the counties. He said the ATLN is using the Work Ready program as a way to help make these changes in the area since there is already a framework in place and it achieves the same goals the network is working for.
“The value of this is, and these are high standards, that if each county were to obtain that and become a work ready community in progress, and then eventually our goal is to be a work ready community,” he added. “Then businesses and employers outside the region can say … I want to come to Perry County, I want to come to Breathitt County because they have a trained work force.”
The Work Ready program asks for certain criteria to be met in each county before a work ready certificate can be awarded to the community, including increasing educational attainment throughout the county, soft skills development and measurement, and Internet and broadband access.
Each county must apply separately, Daley said, and will go through three stages of work readiness before receiving a certificate: application in progress, work ready in progress, and work ready certified. Just because each county must apply separately, though, does not mean that the region cannot come together to help every county achieve this goal.
“Right now, there’s less than 15 counties in the state that have reached that measure, that target, they’ve set for themselves. So, that’s going to be a challenge for us to get to that,” he added.
Quillen, who works to help discover employment opportunities for those in the area, said she would like to be able to show that the counties she represents are putting the right foot forward in this fight for education and jobs when she discusses the Work Ready program.
“When I’m in Frankfort and we’re talking about none of our counties, there’s just a big blank on this side of the map and it really doesn’t have to be that way,” she said.
The KRADD board voted to send a letter of intent to inquire about the application process for the Work Ready program. Daley said this was the first step that he hopes every community in the region will decide to make.
“Once we color that map then we can say that KRADD is a Work Ready community program and it’ll help you,” he said. “We see this, for each one of our counties striving for a work ready community status is the way that we’re going to pull all the people together in that community to do the types of things that’s going to help create jobs and attract jobs to come to us.”