Kentucky has a rich economic history built on the backs of agriculture and manufacturing. However, the state has focused on diversifying the economy by expanding business sectors such as the automotive and transportation industries. Today, more than 400 international companies have a presence in Kentucky, including shipping giants UPS and DHL, taking advantage of the state's pro-business climate. As the state attracts new businesses and industries such as transportation and automotive continue to expand, the need for a qualified, trained workforce becomes paramount.
Vocational education in Kentucky
The Lumina Foundation reports that 8.78 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in Kentucky have associate degrees, while 10 percent have a certificate and 11.78 have some other type of postsecondary training, but no degree. The state's goal, through its "Stronger through Degrees" strategy is to have even more students gain an associate-degree education. Attending college does require time and a financial commitment, but often career-oriented training can be completed in two years or less.
The good news is that vo-tech schools and community colleges offer a variety of educational programs that include diplomas, certificates and associate degrees. In many cases, you can complete these in two years or less and find opportunities that may lead to competitive pay as well advancement, particularly given more education. Vo-tech or community college education could help you pave the way into one of the following sectors.
- Utilities: It's not a secret that the utility sector is headed toward sustainability and all things green. Utility companies are utilizing alternative forms of energy to diversify their portfolios, and solar-power companies are popping up all over. An HVAC certificate or degree could help you to start a career in the energy field, but so could specific training in sustainable materials and technologies. Additional opportunities include an energy technologies degree, a certificate program in alternative energy or an energy auditor-training program.
- Government: Who's to say the world is not your oyster when it comes to government jobs? Government covers so many facets of business, ranging from criminal justice to public policy, administration, social services and more. Related programs include an associate degree in business administration, political science or even human services. Degrees in accounting, management or criminal justice could also help you to procure job-ready skills.
- Manufacturing: It's assumed that manufacturing processes are all technology-based, but there still is a human factor involved. As part of ongoing operations, employees are needed to ensure quality control and to fix machines when they are broken. Certificate programs or associate degrees in electronics and computer technology could offer entry-level positions as could an education in office machine repair or manufacturing engineer technology, both available at the associate-degree level.
Top Kentucky industries and employers
The automotive industry employs 82,000 individuals in the state and Kentucky ranked third in the country for light vehicle production numbers in 2013, according to data from the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. Toyota, Ford and GM have major assembly, manufacturing and engineering facilities throughout the state. In addition to its production plant, Toyota also has its North American Manufacturing and Engineering Headquarters in Erlanger and North American Parts Logistics Division in Hebron.
Major automotive employers in the state include the following:
- Akebono Brake Industry Co, Ltd.
- Hitachi, Ltd.
- Martinrea International Inc.
Indeed, the future looks bright for vocational students considering completing an automotive-related training program, as the state has attracted approximately $4 billion in additional capital investments and created 17,000 new jobs during the past five years.
Vocational careers in Kentucky
Although the automotive industry continues to have a major presence in the state, manufacturing remains a driving force for the economy. Because of the billions being invested into the expansion of manufacturing businesses in Kentucky, the state has placed an emphasis on workforce development, especially in the vocational space.
- Kentucky Skills Network. Provides funding for employee and worker training, helping build relevant skills in manufacturing, service and technology and more.
- Kentucky Manufacturing Career Center. Launched in 2013, the career center provides training for individuals seeking careers in manufacturing.
- Bluegrass Community and Technical College Advanced Manufacturing Center. Part of the Bluegrass Technical and Community college, the manufacturing center partners with manufacturing leaders, such as Toyota, to provide a range of specialized manufacturing training from welding to industrial electricity, machining to robotics.
Below is a list of related vocational-focused careers that you may consider pursuing in Kentucky, with data sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov):
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Median Wage||Projected Employment Change|
|Rotary Drill Operators, Oil and Gas||110||35030||4,800|
|Helpers--Brickmasons, Blockmasons, Stonemasons, and Tile and Marble Setters||560||27690||10,500|
|Medical Equipment Repairers||530||36960||12,800|
|Occupational Therapy Assistants||500||56690||12,900|
|Woodworking Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders, Except Sawing||1460||25540||6,300|
|Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators||1350||35120||10,800|
|Diagnostic Medical Sonographers||870||58270||27,000|
|Physical Therapist Assistants||1550||52150||29,300|
|Home Health Aides||3970||21270||424,200|
|Personal Care Aides||8890||19460||580,800|
Outside of manufacturing, vocational opportunities exist across a range of programs and specializations, including automotive and technology, medicine and health, technology, art and design and more. Prospective students interested in a vocational career in Kentucky should learn how a diploma, continued professional training or a certificate could pave the way to employment opportunities in one of the state's many growing industry areas.
Financial aid in Kentucky
Kentucky's "Stronger By Degrees" strategy aims to have 37 percent of the state's 25-to-34-year-old population with associate degrees (or higher) by 2020. Filling out FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) paperwork can be your first step toward vo-tech or college education, as it can open up doors to work-study programs, grants (which don't have to be repaid) and school loans. Other opportunities for financial aid in Kentucky include:
- Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship - This scholarship offers high schools seniors the ability to gain scholarship money based on their GPA. In other words, a 2.5 high school GPA would amount to $125 in scholarship money annually whereas a 3.5 GPA amounts to $375 annually and a 4.0, $500. Bonus awards also are given for high ACT scores.
- Kentucky Community and Technical College Systems Commonwealth Scholarship - For this scholarship, money is awarded to students who have financial need and also finished in the upper 10 percent of their high school graduating class.
- KCTCS President's Scholarships - These scholarships are available to students at the state's various community colleges and awarded to those who have an unmet financial need and who also demonstrate outstanding academic performance.
- The Kentucky Colonels Better Life Scholarship - Single working parents are eligible for this scholarship, which awards up to $2,500 annually to two students who have at least one child under the age of 12.
It's a fact that scholarships and grant opportunities can help you to offset college-related tuition and fees. Moreover, tuition and fees vary state by state for public institutions, but in Kentucky averaged the following in 2015-16:
- Public two-year schools: $4,653
- Public four-year schools: $9,567
You can find other ways to make a college education more affordable, too. Among these includes opportunities for living at home with parents or family, working a first or second job, buying second-hand books, and applying for schools that are located in the state you live. This provides the chance to seek in-state tuition, which is generally less expensive than for those coming from out-of-state.
- BusinessClimate, Kentucky's Top Employers, http://businessclimate.com/kentucky-economic-development/kentuckys-top-employers
- Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Bluegrass Advanced Manufacturing Center,
- Energy Education in Kentucky, no date. http://energy.ky.gov/Programs/Documents/ENERGY%20ED%20IN%20KY%20Final.pdf
- Inc., Top Companies in Kentucky on the 2012 Inc. 5000,
- Kentucky, Economy at a Glance, May 2016, http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.ky.htm
- Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development,
- Kentucky Skills Network,
- Kentuckiana Works, Kentucky Manufacturing Career Center,
- Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky Locations and Expansions Announce, October 2014,
- Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky Business Climate,
- Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky is a Driving Force in the U.S. Automotive Industry,
- Kentucky, Strategy Labs, The Lumina Foundation, no date, http://strategylabs.luminafoundation.org/in-the-states/ky
- May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Kentucky, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
- Scholarship Opportunities, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, no date, https://www.kctcs.edu/Students/Costs_and_Financial_Aid/Scholarship_Opportunities.aspx
- "Tuition and Fees by Sector and State Over Time, The College Board, no date, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time