Focus of Northern Kentucky Chamber July Eggs ‘N Issues is workforce and career pathways to success


By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The July Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ’N Issue discussion focused on workforce.

The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce July Eggs ‘N Issues discussion focused on workforce development. the panel included, from left to right, Jason Ashbrook from the NKADd (moderator), Julie Whitis of theKenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology, Vicki Berling, Building Industry Association and Josh Benton, Kentucky’s Deputy Secretary of Workforce Development (photos by Mark Hansel).

“Career Pathways to Success,” included panelists from the state and local level who help explain what is being down to marry the workforce to the needs of the region.

Panelists included Dr. Julie Whitis, principal of the Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology, with more than 16 years of experience as an educator in the Kenton County School District.

Whitis earned her bachelor of science degree in biology, a master of secondary science education degree, and her Ed.D. in educational leadership from Northern Kentucky University. In addition, she earned her second master’s degree in instructional leadership from the University of the Cumberlands.

Dr. Vicki Berling is the Director of Professional Development at the Building Industry Association. She is responsible for career days and school visits, continuing education courses, instructors, the evening trades program and scholarships. She is also on the Carpentry, Electricity, HVAC, and Education Advisory Committees.

Josh Benton is Kentucky’s Deputy Secretary of Workforce Development.

He started his career as a program assistant at the Kentucky Department of Education before going to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development where he was an Economic Development Representative. He worked his way up to Senior Project Manager and Executive Director of Workforce Development.

Jason Ashbrook from the Northern Kentucky Area Development District moderated the discussion, which took place at the Receptions event center in Erlanger.

Panelists discussed changing mindsets about careers in manufacturing and skilled trades. This included what schools and industry associations are doing to change the perception that a traditional four-year college degree is the only pathway to a high-paying job and successful career.

Whitis talked about how the goal of the Ignite Institute, scheduled to open in the fall, is to change the traditional approach to vocational training.

“The Ignite Institute is a regional high school that is then blending academics and career focus,” Whitis said. “We’re different from the traditional vocational schools that all of us knew when we were in high school. We’re not just focusing on the skills, we’re actually encouraging academic readiness as well.”

When students come to the Ignite Institute, they will choose one of five colleges to join – education, engineering, health care, computer sciences and a college of design.

Whitis said those colleges were selected based on the needs of the region.

“We looked at, working with the Workforce Investment Board, how we could put high-quality workers back into our region in the areas of high need,“ Whitis said. “When scholars come to the Ignite Institute they choose a college that they would like to try out. The great thing is it’s about exploration, so if a scholar comes in as a freshman in the college of engineering and they decide that’s not for them, then the next year try (something else).”

The goal is to integrate a combination of vocational training, academics and workforce readiness.

“We want scholars coming out of Ignite ready for the workforce,” Whitis said.

With a trend away from a four-year degree for many students, one goal of the Ignite Institute is to determine the appropriate degree or certification for the career path a scholar wants to explore.

“The junior year, we meet with all of our scholars and set a unique pathway, very personalized learning for them that will look like, senior year, an internship in the field they want to be practicing,” Whitis said. “These are different than your traditional co-op opportunities. They’re not just making copies, they’re not just answering phones, they’re required to answer problems for the businesses they are working in.”

Berling talked about the Enzweiler institute at the Building Industry Association. The Association is known to many as the Home Builders Association and it is part of that national network.

“We are doing business as the Building Industry Association because we recognize that things beyond homes are being built in Northern Kentucky,” Berling said. “We are a member organization and we want to make sure that our members are well-represented in our name.”

The Enzweiler Building Institute is the oldest and one of the largest Building Institute-funded schools of its kind in the country.

“We’ve been around since 1967,” Berling said. “We started with carpentry and added electricians in the early 70s, HVAC, now we do plumbing, facilities maintenance, welding. We’re about to embark on a very large addition to our facilities, which will allow us to have truly state-of-the-art facilities.”

The Enzweiler Building Institute serves about 150 to 200 students a year.

“It’s an evening model because we do believe in the combination of work and education as the best way for most people to learn,” Berling said. “Our students are working during the day and then coming to school two nights a week.”

Enzweiler students are in school from September through April.

“Starting in April, they need to be available to be working,” Berling said.

One of the challenges facing the Building Industry Association and others is the way apprenticeships are defined.

Apprenticeships are registered through the U.S. Department of Labor and there is a lot of paperwork that goes along with that process. For the purpose of the discussion, those apprenticeships were defined as “Big A” apprenticeships.

“You have to be tracking people in terms of the hours that they are working, what they are doing with those hours,” Berling said. “There’s a lot of work to make sure that the person who is their mentor is doing all of the right things and I think they are great. Many of the builders in Northern Kentucky, in particular, and our vendors are small companies. They don’t have the manpower to do the things that have to go behind the “Big A” apprenticeships.”

The Building industry Association is more likely to have “little A” apprenticeships.

“They are still people who are training under someone else,” Berling said. “Several fields that we train in, electric, HVAC, plumbing, for example, are licensure-based programs. In order to get a license in Kentucky, you have to have hours certified under someone who is a Master in their field.”

The Enzweiler Institute adds the classroom training that complements that.

Benton talked about how the state has worked to streamline the number of organizations that oversee workforce development.

“At the state level, we had six different state Cabinets working and involved in workforce development,” Benton said. “That represented about 35 different program that could be available and close to $1 billion worth of resources. Those go in different directions, they are not all administrated at the state level.”

When Benton was asked to move to the Cabinet about 18 months ago, he was charged with better aligning those resources.

“One of the first things that we have done is reduce the number of state agencies that are involved in workforce development from six to two,” Benton said. “There have been some significant realignments of that state-level of administration of those resources and those involve a lot of the federal programs. Things that go into the career center are administered locally, adult education and job training resources, such as apprenticeships.”

With the objective of realignment to make sure everything is housed under the same priorities and objectives, the goal now is to try to sort out the different structures that existed within those organizations.

The Eggs ‘N Issues discussions take place monthly at Receptions Banquet and Conference Center, located in Erlanger. For more information on Eggs ‘N Issues, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at


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