OWENSBORO -- Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis told the first graduating class of the Owensboro Innovation Academy that he was proud to stand before the 59 students who blazed the trail to become the first New Tech high school in Kentucky.
Lewis was the commencement speaker for the graduation this month that took place at the RiverPark Center. It was the first graduation of the school that began four years ago. The OIA is a part of the New Tech Network, a 19-year-old network based in Napa, California, with 207 schools in 25 states and Australia. It was the first in Kentucky to be selected as part of the network. The project-based learning school comprises students from the Owensboro Public Schools and Daviess County Public Schools districts, as well as students from Hancock County.
It likely comes as no surprise, Lewis said, that the world economy is changing and jobs that once existed no longer do. He told students about being a child and seeing a full-service attendant at every gas station. Many students have probably never seen that before, because it is not a common job anymore, he said.
"You might say, 'Well that's a long time ago,' but I want to caution you that at the time many of us adults in the room were experiencing these things, very few of us had the foresight to think it's not going to be too much longer that that job is going to exist," he said.
In addition to jobs no longer existing, "we should be even more cognizant of jobs that will soon be no more," Lewis said, and he referenced how Walmart made a recent announcement that it would be investing in more robots in thousands of their retail locations across the country. Those robots would do the job that today are done by people.
He said this doesn't mean that jobs are being replaced, but there will be different types of jobs. For example, kids now need to be trained to make and repair robots.
Through a longitudinal data system that enables the Kentucky Department of Education to follow kids as they graduate high school, Lewis and other state officials are able to track the Kentucky class of 2010 as a measure.
"Here is what we know about the Kentucky class of 2010," Lewis said. "One, far too few of them actually matriculated directly into post-secondary education."
Even more startling, Lewis said, is that after seven years after graduation, only 25% of the Kentucky class of 2010 had earned any post-secondary credential -- either a certificate or diploma, or two-year or four-year degree.
"Here's why that number is so scary for all of us," he said. "Because in this post-Great Recession economy, over 80% of jobs created required some degree of post-secondary training or credential. And if you don't have that, you are going to be in a lot of trouble. So we have catch-up work to do."