The Northland Education and Business Alliance reviewed the status of the region’s economics and education during their meeting at iWerx Gladstone April 4.
Business and education leaders discussed several Northland trends, including a healthy job market for workers and multiple school programs that target workforce training and career awareness.
Employers definitely need the workers. Businesses ranging from a local landscaping company to a major automotive parts supplier reported actively seeking additional workforce and launching new training initiatives.
Meanwhile, local schools are ramping up efforts to place students in internships as a way to increase job awareness and contacts. One effort includes new or expanded programs in Liberty, North Kansas City and Park Hill to help special education students learn about jobs. Several local events this spring are targeting careers, including a sixth-grade career speaker event in the North Kansas City District in May and upcoming mock interviews in Park Hill schools.
Reflecting national trends, the local leaders noted there’s still a disconnect between graduate skills and job requirements. “There’s still a skilled trades challenge,” said Adam Jelenic, HR programs coordinator with LMV Automotive Systems in Liberty. “We’re not the only ones who are seeing this.”
Jelenic said the job market, though tight, has improved over the past year, but many high-paying jobs remain empty. Others shared that this is especially true in skilled trades. They said that welders today are earning well over $100 an hour and, with overtime, can make six-figure salaries, for example.
New developments include an agribusiness, animal science and plant science expansion for the Maple Woods’ veterinary technology program. A planned agriculture facility will contain not just classrooms and lab space but also a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse. Another program is being explored with the Kaufman Foundation to address students who have dropped out of high school.
Yet another project under way involves fundraising for a new, $60-million Northland Workforce Development Center. Co-chairs of the fund drive are Tina Chace, executive director of the Platte County Economic Development Council and David Slater, executive director of the Clay County Economic Development Council. Thanks to a $30-million state grant and several local contributions, less than $28 million is needed for the center which is planned for Platte Purchase Road north of Highway 152. Leaders of the career center and Maple Woods just announced a joint effort to utilize the planned ag-business center for high school students.
The Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) will hold its end of year celebration April 24. Executive Director Brett Kisker said that the program is working with the Northland Health Alliance and the organization’s community health improvement plan. For students, the initiative planned for this fall will offer an immersive opportunity with tangible results, he said.
The meeting included several discussions of other ways to improve local workforce opportunities. Many shared that a major hurdle is that parents have limited opportunities to learn about the programs that do exist. EDC Business Retention Specialist Julie Lewis addressed one demographic that typifies the problem.
“What about the single parent who doesn’t know what’s out there?” she asked. “They don’t know where to start looking for internships and other programs.”
Rich Groves of the North Kansas City Business Council said that group is working hard to support the NFL Draft at Union Station in Kansas City April 27-29. With its growing entertainment offerings and proximity to Downtown Kansas City, NKC has launched a North Kansas City Draft Fest initiative. More information is available at ExploreNKC.com.