A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Fernando Figueroa: Work-based learning and apprenticeships provide opportunities for employers

In our current labor market, identifying a pool of suitable workers can be challenging for many employers.

Today, some of the more traditional ways of recruiting a talented workforce seem to be ineffective.

However, this conundrum may be a blessing in disguise if it causes employers to be open to considering new opportunities, such as offering work-based learning and apprenticeship experiences, as a way of inviting untapped talent into their organization.

The Northern Kentucky Workforce Investment Board (NKWIB), which oversees the region’s Kentucky Career Centers, is all too aware of the fact that we need to think creatively when it comes to meeting employer demands while increasing the skills of local job seekers – effectively closing the region’s skills gap. A great way to do this is through work-based learning experiences, which can be mutually beneficial for the employer and job seeker/ student.

At Gateway Community & Technical College, we have accepted the challenge of maximizing opportunities for our students/ job seekers to participate in work-based learning experiences and apprenticeships, which are not one in the same.

Work-based learning and apprenticeships differ in one major aspect: while they both provide students with real-life work experience, apprenticeships are sponsored by companies combining on the job training with college coursework. Either way, students have the opportunity to apply their classroom learning, and companies get to evaluate them in real time. Serving as a conduit between students and companies – in these and other ways – is one of Gateway’s prime responsibilities.

The benefits of work-based learning and apprenticeships are well known. At Gateway, though, we go a lot further. In addition to teaching students how to work, we teach them how to be a good employee.

Our courses of study are informed and driven by the Northern Kentucky business community. Gateway has developed strong, interactive relationships with these businesses that lead to engaging, targeted curriculum. Working with partners like St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Duke Energy, Gateway gains an understanding of the skills required and bakes that knowledge into the process.

Significantly, these skills are not just technical. They involve work-ready skills like listening, speaking, writing, critical thinking, problem-solving, initiative, adaptability, teamwork and collaboration. And they involve preparing students for not just the work but the work environment and result in employees who are ready to be outstanding employees from day one.

By paying attention to the whole person, and the whole employee, Gateway is able to fulfill one of its most important missions: removing barriers to a successful life. While we provide access to higher education, we also ensure no one is left behind. We help them develop a career plan and build the confidence to use what they’ve learned. Our academic and workforce programming meets the needs of both our students and the region by listening, responding and adapting. And we help students stay in the system and complete their journey.

The result is a fully-engaged employee who is ready to leverage their job into a career.

Finally, Gateway has a strong partnership with the NKWIB and Kentucky Career Center. That partnership ensures that not only students, but all people in the Northern Kentucky workforce have the opportunity to have barriers removed from their path toward gainful employment and self-sufficiency. With supportive services, funding opportunities, and customer-centered staff, Gateway and the Kentucky Career Center look forward to serving and enhancing the community for years to come.

Dr. Fernando Figuero is president of Gateway Community & Technical College.

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