Accelerated training program accelerates employment

By Joshua L. Ball

A laid-off worker finds new opportunities through accelerated training at community college.

Jason Keeton had felt the boom and bust of the natural resources sector during his 10 years as a crane operator at AK Steel.Jason Keeton had felt the boom and bust of the natural resources sector during his 10 years as a crane operator at AK Steel.

But this bust was permanent.

“I just felt it in my gut,” said Keeton, 37, of Staffordsville.  AK Steel, an Ashland, Ky.-based steel manufacturing facility, idled its operations in December 2015 leaving more than 900 people without work. “In the past, we had been laid off but given a return date, and we all knew this lay off was much different.”

Keeton, a husband and father of four teenagers, knew it was time for a change.  Through the help of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP) and Big Sandy Area Community Action Program, Keeton learned of a new accelerated program at Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) that provides participants with certifications in fiber optics, lineman, OSHA and commercial driver’s license.

The program launched its first class earlier in July. Administered by the college’s Workforce Solutions division, participants will get world-class training in fields that are in demand and provide a livable wage.

“It’s important that in these difficult times, we focus on the opportunities that are available to retrain and retool people displaced from coal and coal-related industries,” said Kelli Hall, dean of career education and workforce development at BSCTC. “These students will earn world-class and industry recognized credentials that will make them competitive in the job market.”

The first class of the college’s new accelerated program comes from all walks of life.  In addition to Keeton, there are laid off miners and even three recent high school graduates from Floyd County.

BSCTC was the first college in eastern Kentucky to launch a fiber optics training program.  Through a partnership with BDI DataLynk, students are trained by some of the most experience fiber optics technicians in the world.  Later this year, the college will break ground on a $4.5 million Advanced Technology Center, the first of its kind in Kentucky, to house the fiber optics and broadband technology associate degree program, just the third of its kind in the United States.

For Keeton, he hopes to land a job locally doing phone, electrical or fiber work.

“This is home and this is where I want to stay,” he said.

Continue the conversation on our LinkedIn group.

Joshua L. Ball

is director of strategic communications at Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.