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Smart Starts: Northern Kentucky Schools Offer Top-Rated Programs

Take notes on how the region is preparing students for the workforce.

By Teree Caruthers on January 21, 2020

Northern Kentucky Schools
Covington / Michael Dominic Tedesco

Talent is overflowing in the Northern Kentucky region, providing expanding and relocating companies with abundant access to cream-of-the-crop employees. 

Where is this top-tier talent coming from? In many cases, the answer is from Northern Kentucky.

Talent cultivation begins early in the region, with an impressive roster of top-rated schools and programs leading students toward in-demand career paths.

In fact, five of U.S. News & World Report’s top school districts in Kentucky in 2018 were in Northern Kentucky, such as Fort Thomas Independent and Beechwood Independent schools. Fort Thomas recently worked with regional districts and business partners, including the Workforce Investment Board, which drives workforce development to meet the changing needs of area employers and the labor force, to create a workplace skills certificate.

Skills Player

“With the development of the certificate, essential skills opportunities and programming were collected and shared with our teachers to utilize in elementary, middle school and high school,†says Jamee Flaherty, Fort Thomas’ assistant superintendent for student services. “We implemented an approach to ensure our middle and high school students are engaged in conversations about career opportunities. They explore occupations and participate in surveys to match strengths with interests. We also discuss how our workforce is changing, and by focusing on our Portrait of a Graduate competencies, we prepare our students for jobs that don’t exist today.”

Northern Kentucky: Where Talent Meets Opportunity

College Prep

The school system also offers dual enrollment programs through higher education institutions such as Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More University and Gateway Community & Technical College to give students a head start to college and careers. 

“We provide dual credit opportunities and have begun the development of curricular pathways for our students at Launch, our professionals studies center, and at Highlands High School,†Flaherty says.

Gateway Community & Technical College also offers its students trainings and programs customized to the needs of area businesses, such as commercial driver’s license (CDL) training, automotive technology and building trades, among others.

Full STEAM Ahead

The region offers a number of innovative education initiatives focused around STEM and STEAM learning, too, including the Ignite Institute, a STEAM-focused education center in Erlanger that opened in a former Toyota R&D facility. The institute focuses on project-based learning experiences to deliver skills in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Jerry Gels, Ignite Institute co-principal, says the school was founded to address the region’s workforce development needs.

“One of the first things that we did was listen to the businesses and try to come up with a package that addressed some of the skills they said workers were missing – those soft skills, such as collaboration, being accountable, showing up on time, being able to speak in front of an audience – and we developed a lot of our programming around that,†Gels says. “Secondly, we listened to businesses when they talked about the necessary certifications and specializations they need in a workforce, and we built programming around that.”

A Bright Future: Entrepreneurs Shine in Northern Kentucky

Ready for the Workforce

Gels says the school works closely with businesses to give students hands-on experience, giving them an accurate picture of local careers.

“We have around 48 different businesses that are offering some kind of internship for our kids, and that’s expanding. Our hope is that, eventually, we will have what amounts to a mentorship program where each kid will have a one-on-one relationship with a business leader,†Gels says.

Gels says he believes the school can be a major advantage for the region when attracting new business as well.

“I think we’re going to be one of the reasons that people are looking to set up their headquarters or locate their business here. The pool for talented, skilled, high-tech labor – they’ll see that our institution is providing that pool of talent, and I think you’re going to see a lot of businesses pick our area and expand in our area because of what we have to offer here,†he says.

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