West Kentucky Community and Technical College will begin a program this fall that will enable Kentuckians to gain their GED and become certified in a work-skills program at the same time, making them work-ready upon completion of their GED.
The program is called GED-Plus, and as the name implies, it goes beyond earning a General Educational Development test, an equivalent to a high school diploma. While participants are working toward getting a GED, they are also taking college-level courses for certification in several areas where workers are needed throughout Kentucky.
"It is designed for someone to come in needing their GED, and within four months, they should be able to complete their GED along with a college certificate in welding or (information technology) or others," said Tammy Maines, the director of Skills U at WKCTC. "The intention is for them to do both of them at the exact same time. One semester in four months or less is the goal."
GED-Plus is a partnership between the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and Kentucky Skills U and works to meet the statewide need of matching skilled workers to jobs that go unfilled. According to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce:
• More than half of Kentucky employers are struggling to find workers with the skills they need.
• There will be 84,000 job openings in Kentucky each year over the next seven years, many requiring some postsecondary education, and there are not enough high school graduates to meet those needs.
• By next year, 62 percent of the jobs in Kentucky -- five out of every eight jobs -- will require some level of postsecondary education.
• Kentucky ranks 42nd nationally in workforce participation at 59.3 percent. The national average is 62.7 percent.
On top of that, there are more than 350,000 adults in Kentucky who do not have a high school diploma or GED. GED-Plus seeks to take those people and help them earn a GED and college credit or job certification at the same time.
"There is a really big push in Kentucky right now to get as many people to work as possible and get them to a skill level that is in in-demand fields," said Emily Peck, WKCTC's vice president for student development.
Those fields are health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, business service and information technology, and construction and trades.
GED-Plus has several scholarship opportunities for GED tests and certification programs in those fields.
"There is little or no cost, because we have a scholarship that's paying for GEDs," Maines said. "We also have a limited number of $400 scholarships offered through KCTCS for tuition, books and supplies, and we have the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship that students may qualify for where their tuition is covered.
"Welding, for instance -- the outside cost is $401.80. So, someone could seriously get their welding first certificate for $1.80."
Peck added: "There is a scholarship called the Ready-to-Work Scholarship that covers the GED-Plus programs in those areas. It is something that Kentucky offers, which is an amazing opportunity for people to take advantage. And, you don't have to be a GED-Plus student to take advantage of the Ready-to-Work Scholarship.
"(GED-Plus) is a great springboard. For example, GED-Plus students can qualify and actually take phlebotomy. They would have the opportunity to get that certificate, finish their GED and, hopefully, get their foot in the door to start work, but then, come back to (WKCTC) for an advanced certificate like a (certified nursing assistant), something along those lines as they advance their career."
WKCTC is taking GED-Plus applications now for the fall semester. For more information, contact KCTCS success coach Laurie Swick at 270-534-3312 or Skills U navigators Stacey Kimbro (for McCracken, Carlisle and Graves counties) at 270-856-2422 or Chris Hildebrand (for Ballard, Calloway, Fulton, Hickman, Livingston and Marshall counties) at 270-665-8412.
More information is also available at gedplusky.org.