Face of the 21st Century Work Force

Aleshia Chilton

Harrodsburg Welding Inspector Makes 6-Figure Income

If you want a secure financial future for your child, perhaps you should consider the case of Aleshia Chilton of Harrodsburg.

Chilton, 23, was an above average student at Mercer County High who also enjoyed working with her hands. Her life changed when she enrolled in a welding class at the school.

She not only enjoyed welding, she was good at it. Mike Jones, her teacher, encouraged her to pursue the field at the Hughes/Jones Area Technical Center, which sits right behind Mercer County High and is part of the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) network.

Under the direction of Chris King, an experienced welder and a teacher at Hughes/Jones for 11 years, Chilton thrived.

She not only learned a trade, she took and passed the state certification test for welding – a requirement in King’s class.
With a small scholarship in hand, Chilton took out a $15,000 education loan and attended Tulsa Welding School in Oklahoma for eight months.
The result? Five years later, Chilton works nine hours a day at $29 per hour plus a $65 per diem allowance at a coal-fired power plant in Louisville. She owns two cars and her own home in Harrodsburg, and is one of the youngest certified associate welding inspectors in the U.S.
She has made as much as $34 an hour and for the past two years reached her goal of earning a six-figure income.
That $15,000 college loan? She paid that off nearly four years ago.
“I am very grateful for this career and I’m grateful that I enjoy my job,” Chilton said.
It doesn’t hurt that she’s making big money.
Chilton is also part of the solution to a national problem – a mismatch between education and the workforce. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce report in 2014 screamed out the problem – industry and manufacturing employers can’t find enough skilled workers.
That’s why the CTE branch of the state Department of Education is working hard to educate students – and their parents – about the benefits of career and technical education.
Welding is only one small part of the 16 CTE career clusters offered at high schools and technical centers across the state. The program covers everything from agriculture, construction and business administration to marketing, IT, health science and transportation.
These programs provide students with work-ready skills along with other 21st century soft skills such as communication, teamwork, time management and persistence.
“For years, career and technical education has embedded 21st century skills into our curriculum,” said Laura Arnold, the acting Associate Commissioner for CTE.
“Career and technical education creates an environment that combines academics with real-world relevance.”
It also has transformed as the global economy has changed.
“K-12 education is preparing students for future careers, not just preparing them for college,” Arnold said.
“As the needs of the economy change, students must be given pathway opportunities that lead to a career and a desire for life-long learning. CTE allows this opportunity by making strong connections between secondary, postsecondary education and the workforce.”
This is especially meaningful given the spike in college attendance, its ever spiraling price tag and the diminishing returns of a four-year degree.
Two generations ago, a college degree was a gateway to a more prosperous career. That’s no longer a sure thing.
Too many college graduates hit the job market with a lack of skills and loads of debt.
And that doesn’t address the majority of college enrollees who drop out before graduation.
Harvard University predicts that in 2018 only 33% of all jobs will require a four-year degree or more, while the overwhelming majority will be middle-skilled jobs requiring technical skills and training at the credential or associate’s degree level.

Given that scenario, why aren’t more Kentucky students in CTE? The answer might lie in the phrase “vocational school.” A stigma still clings to that term – especially among parents.
Arnold acknowledges that perception is a problem for CTE.
“Many parents view CTE in an old-school way,” she said. “We are improving our marketing of these programs to break down that perception barrier.”

Parents need to know that CTE embraces a variety of work-based programs including internships, job shadowing, mentoring and a unique apprenticeship program – the only one of its kind in the nation.
Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky (TRACK) is a partnership between CTE and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet to provide secondary students with career pathway opportunities into Registered Apprenticeship programs.
The program is designed to create a pipeline for students to enter post-secondary apprenticeship training. Employers can tailor the program for their specific needs, ensuring that future employees have a good foundation and an interest in that occupation.
Additionally, it enables students to receive a nationally recognized credential at little or no cost.
Which can lead to six-figure salaries like the one enjoyed by Chilton, the welding inspector.
“She was very goal oriented and we use her as an example all the time,” said King, her welding teacher.
Chilton compares herself to friends who took the traditional four-year college path.
“Some of them don’t know what their majors are or don’t have a job locked down after graduation,” she said. “They also have regrets about spending all that money on college.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t go to (CTE). The resources and classes really helped me. Chris King really loves to see his kids have better lives.”
Aleshia Chilton is Exhibit A.