Instead of flipping burgers at a fast food restaurant and making minimum wage, Whitley County High School juniors Morgan McKiddy, Blake McCullah and Conner Wilson along with Hancock County High School junior Casey Baize have a different part-time job and will be learning a trade that could benefit them long after high school.
Each will be making $9.50 per hour thanks in part to a new pilot program being implemented in Whitley and Hancock counties that will teach the students skills in the Information Technology (IT) field.
Through this two-year paid apprenticeship opportunity with Dataseam of Louisville, students will work alongside experienced professionals to maintain, configure, install, repair and troubleshoot computer, network and software at their schools.
The program will also serve as a pipeline to potential careers in the space science, state or local government, banking and ﬁnancial services.
“The intent is that it is a 2,000 hour program for them to get an apprenticeship certificate, which is a common thing with the skilled trades like electricians, plumbers and those sort of things,” Dataseam’s CEO Brian Gupton said during a Nov. 28 press conference at the Whitley County Board of Education’s central office in Williamsburg. “A lot of it is on the job training and engagement, but also enrichment experiences.”
The students have already been working in the apprenticeship program since the start of the school year.
Gupton said there will be some class instruction each day, and some after school work too.
The students will skype with Dataseam Apprentice Manager John Soward daily, and will receive their assignments.
Gupton said the idea for the apprenticeship program isn’t something new, and the U.S. Department of Labor, the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet approve it.
He noted that the apprenticeship program could prove valuable to the participating students in terms of future jobs.
“These are industry standard certifications. They are not the end all be all. You often, in IT, have a set of what’s called stackable credentials. As technology is always changing, each of these certifications in different areas continue to build upon one another,” Gupton said.
He said that there is tremendous need in a couple of different IT areas, which he hopes the program can partially help to fill, such as state and local governments and financial services.
“From a four-year perspective, we really have a demand for IT-oriented individuals to go into the space science program at Morehead State University,” Gupton said. “There is a lot going on there we could see these kids doing.”
Gupton said that by summer 2020, Dataseam hopes to have at least two apprentices in each of the 38 actively participating school districts it serves.
82nd Rep. Regina Huff noted that the program will also provide the students with an opportunity to earn scholarships at the University of Louisville and Morehead State University.
Dataseam was founded in 2004 with an initial primary focus to bring computers to schools in order to provide computing power for cancer research.
During the day, local students use the computers for school work and classroom assignments. At night, the computers are networked together in order to provide computer processing power for cancer research.
“We needed a cancer research infrastructure in the state of Kentucky to advance the work that was going on from Buck’s for Brain researchers to take it to the next level. The way that we were able to do it was we created the super computer with the byproduct of it and most visible product of it being these schools in eastern and western coal produce regions were receiving work stations,” Gupton explained.
Huff added that since 2005, Whitley County has received 579 computers through Dataseam’s cancer initiative in coal counties, and has supplied about 24,000 top of the line work stations to schools in 49 counties.
“Over the next year two years, around 2,500 more work stations will be going into participating school districts. It is exciting that our district will be one of those recipients, and part of the next wave of instruction and continual training that Dataseam is providing to particular participating coal counties across the commonwealth,” Huff said. “This program’s work is truly immeasurable.”
Senate President Robert Stivers added that the link between Whitley and Hancock counties is that both are in coal producing regions. The state initially funded the Dataseam cancer research initiative through coal severance funding, but it is now funded out of general fund dollars, he noted.
Important to Kentucky
Kentucky Education and Workforce Cabinet Deputy Secretary Josh Benton, who is a Cumberland College alumnus, noted that the cabinet really believes in apprenticeship.
“Apprenticeship at its core blends practical learning and classroom learning. We know all across the board when you blend those outcomes improve whether it is graduation rates or traditional grades and performance. Also, students are better prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow when they participate in an apprenticeship style education,” Benton noted. “It is an exciting opportunity. We want to see more of these opportunities around the state.”
Benton added that the program is important because there are over 120,000 open jobs across Kentucky in all different types of sectors, and about 80 percent of those jobs require some type of IT background.
“When we look at the economy today and the skills that are needed, and what is going to be needed down the road, some sort of knowledge of IT – of how systems work and how to network – is going to be critical whether you work in manufacturing, whether you work in transportation, whether you work at a bank, whether you work in education it matters. It is a cross sectional skill across the board,” he said.
“To see Whitley County and Hancock County partner with Dataseam is not just an exciting opportunity for the students, but it is going to make huge impacts and dividends for the future of our economy.”