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Kentucky Workforce Education Accelerator

According to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the state has experienced a skills gap that has limited economic growth and development. In 2020, the state had a 4.4% unemployment rate, yet many employers reported difficulty in finding qualified candidates to fill open positions. The skills gap is projected to result in a shortage of approximately 140,000 workers by 2028, which could cost the state up to $33 billion (about $100 per person in the US) in lost economic output.

If nothing is done to address this challenge, the state will continue to struggle with economic growth and development. Employers will have difficulty finding qualified candidates, which could lead to businesses relocating to other states or countries. This could lead to a further decline in economic growth and an increase in unemployment rates. So, amidst Kentucky’s pressing workforce development challenges, MindSpark and the Siegel Family Foundation decided it was time to help reshape the landscape.

Over the course of seven months, the Kentucky Education Accelerator (EA) brought teams together and collectively addressed workforce gaps within their communities. Each participating organization had specific goals aimed at leaving a lasting, positive impact. The program provided students with alternative career pathways and heightened awareness of emerging workforce trends, career and technical education (CTE), and vocational programs, surpassing the limitations of traditional college preparatory courses.

Collaboration with Education Leaders and Industry Experts

Throughout this experience, MindSpark worked with 9 teams across 8 districts and 15 schools, upskilling 50 leadership members who impact 21,595 students annually. The primary focus was to develop leadership capacity, growth mindsets, and an entrepreneurial approach, helping to ignite passions for challenging the status quo and flipping traditional scripts. The groups were activated to listen and learn from students to establish radical trust, explore how to connect industry needs to student learning, and implement authentic applications to real-world problems.

MindSpark believes it is essential that every co-created experience guides participants through a process that simultaneously activates them individually, as well as the system they work within, to solve problems and drive transformative impact. Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable is crucial for success in the education system, and activities were designed around this point to instill a new way of thinking and reacting to problems. By introducing people to a new way of looking at their system, they become comfortable pivoting in the moment, and more confident pushing boundaries for innovative change (Boston Consulting Group, 2016).

Transformative Learning Through Disruption

The participants had the privilege of gaining insights from esteemed institutions like the Kentucky Educational Development Corporation (KEDC). KEDC is one of the largest and oldest educational cooperatives in the Kentucky region and boasts over 50 years of service, including over 70 member districts representing 536 schools, 20,736 educators, and 343,397 students. The cooperative adds value to school districts by unifying them through support services that elicit innovation and cooperation, including leadership/professional development, adult education, grant opportunities, and much more. KEDC partnered with MindSpark to upskill educators’ in workforce development in order to close the skills gap. KEDC participated in the EA by supporting other team’s initiatives to ensure longevity and sustainability even after the EA came to a close.

The goal was to empower educators with the necessary knowledge and resources to equip students for success in the future workforce, surpassing the boundaries of conventional approaches to workforce development. By challenging prevailing trends and customs, MindSpark sought to provide participants with an innovative experience that prompted significant transformation within their respective districts. This transformative approach led districts to develop comprehensive implementation plans, enabling students to explore diverse career opportunities and effectively contribute to their communities. By embracing disruption and encouraging creative thinking, participants were able to overcome persistent problems and achieve their objectives, breaking free from traditional problem-solving methods and gaining fresh perspectives when tackling challenges.

MindSpark emphasizes collaboration and community engagement as key drivers of impact and transformation. Instead of relying solely on the expertise of educators and industry professionals, MindSpark urged participants to actively engage with their communities and work collaboratively to forge new solutions to the challenges of workforce development. As a testament to the efficacy of this approach, several groups forged as many as 15 new partnerships for their schools and communities. This method enabled participants to break free from the conventional tendency of depending solely on top-down solutions, and instead embrace the power of change driven by the collective efforts of the community.

In the pursuit of a truly transformative learning experience, MindSpark embarked on a deliberate mission to disrupt traditional approaches and ignite a profound transformation. By encouraging participants to break free from conventional thinking and embrace uncharted territory, MindSpark created an environment conducive to the emergence of fresh solutions and the pursuit of ambitious goals. Along this journey, numerous pivotal moments and tangible outcomes stood as testaments to the tangible results yielded by MindSpark’s unconventional approach.

Level Up Plans: Tailored Solutions for Local Needs

One such pivotal moment was the development of Level Up plans, meticulously crafted by participants through the active involvement of diverse stakeholders in the planning process. This inclusive approach ensured that the plans were deeply rooted in local needs and aspirations, thereby increasing their likelihood of success and their potential to effect positive change within their respective communities.

Student-Centered Approaches for Workforce Development

The program fostered close collaboration with industry leaders such as Kentucky One Health, App Harvest, and Toyota. These esteemed organizations generously contributed their invaluable expertise, providing crucial insights into emerging workforce trends and the specific needs of local employers. This partnership proved instrumental in the creation of new pathways and pipelines for sustainable growth, benefiting not only the economy of Kentucky but also providing local students with opportunities to cultivate their talents within their own communities. Consequently, the program sparked a renewed desire among these students to remain in their community, eschewing the allure of larger surrounding cities and alternative prospects. The tangible outcome was the establishment of a thriving talent pool that helped bolster the local workforce and perpetuated self-sufficiency and resilience within the community. The transformative impact of the program manifested in concrete changes witnessed within participating districts and counties. Embracing the ethos of disruption, participants took bold strides in implementing new programs, forging new pathways for students, and cultivating innovative approaches to workforce development. The resounding success of the program reverberated through the impact survey responses, illuminating the profound and positive influence it had on the participants and the communities they served.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce  at the Mindspark Learning EA

Now more than ever before the participants see themselves as part of the change for the future and having a real impact on their community. The districts have analyzed and synthesized what they have been doing, to what they could do, and each of them have plans for their future to become more relevant in the changing economic landscape in Kentucky. From the ways that student voice is incorporated, to how they are exposed to new careers, students now have more resources and tools to make better and smarter decisions about their future.

This EA has helped schools become more innovative by incorporating student voice into the decision-making process. By providing students with a platform to share their perspectives and ideas, districts have been able to develop more student-centered approaches to workforce development that better meet the needs and aspirations of their students. This approach has led to more engaged and empowered students who are better equipped to make smart decisions about their future.

Siegel Family Foundation: A Pivotal Role in Success

The success of the program can be attributed in large part to the pivotal role played by the Siegel Family Foundation as the funders. Their invaluable investment has not only advanced the vision and mission of the program but has also yielded significant value and positive outcomes. By aligning with the strategic focus of the Siegel Family Endowment on learning, workforce development, and infrastructure, the program has made a profound impact on the community while fostering stronger relationships with the participants. The generous support provided by the Siegel Family Foundation has enabled us to develop innovative and sustainable approaches to workforce development in Kentucky, closely resonating with the foundation’s core mission and unwavering commitment to supporting organizations operating at the intersections of learning, workforce development, and infrastructure.

Since its inception, the program has directly addressed the critical challenges of the skills gap and worker shortage, identified as significant obstacles by the Siegel Family Endowment. By creating new pathways, emphasizing emerging workforce trends, and promoting career and technical education (CTE) and vocational programs, MindSpark equipped educators with the necessary tools and knowledge to succeed in promoting their chosen fields and providing alternative career pathways for their students. MindSpark’s collaborative efforts with educators, community leaders, and industry experts, tailored to meet the unique needs of each district and county, seamlessly align with the Siegel Family Endowment’s overarching goal of ensuring equitable access to transformative systems that drive change. MindSpark actively worked to confront social and economic inequities in education and the workforce, empowering individuals from all backgrounds to actively engage in and shape a rapidly evolving world.

Tangible Impact: Mitigating Kentucky’s Workforce Challenges

By effectively addressing the projected shortage of approximately 140,000 workers by the year 2028, MindSpark and the educators involved made significant strides in mitigating potential economic losses of up to $33 billion (equivalent to around $100 per person in the United States) for the state of Kentucky. Consequently, the program has laid a solid foundation for sustained economic growth and development in the region.

Along with the Siegel Family Foundation, partnerships have played a crucial role in the project’s success, fostering a positive impact on MindSpark’s valued collaborators through increased opportunities for collaboration and innovation. By actively engaging partners, MindSpark created a platform for joint efforts in developing new pathways that not only enhance students’ awareness of career opportunities but also align them with the needs of their communities, emerging workforce trends, and vocational programs. As a result, these collaborative endeavors have contributed to the establishment of fresh pipelines that facilitate sustainable growth, bolstering the overall economic landscape of Kentucky.

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