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Kauffman Foundation is committed to regional workforce development

Kansas City region is poised to catalyze a qualified, diverse talent pipeline of tens of thousands of people within 10 years.

Written by Aaron North

Yesterday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg spoke at the site of the planned Panasonic battery plant and called it an example of an “American renaissance” in manufacturing.

During the last several years, many Kansas City area civic and employment sectors have been studying our potential next generation industries such as advanced manufacturing. The bottom line – we have a lot of potential and competitive advantages given our geography and resources. To be successful, we must prioritize a coordinated pursuit of increasing our homegrown workforce capacity, with an intentional focus on outcomes for individuals and communities of color.

To meet that challenge, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is working in collaboration with educators, institutions, employers, advocates, and other funders to prepare people for success in their jobs and careers in the Kansas City region, so that everyone can achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity.

More directly, the Foundation has been intentionally focused on system-level grants with regional impact, getting significant funding out the door every year that supports the continued growth of the six-county KC metro area, and closes earnings and wealth gaps for the people living in it. Most recently, the Foundation provided $50 million to KC Scholars’ Great Jobs KC initiative.

With the support of the Foundation and others, Great Jobs KC can now provide adult learners with tuition assistance and support services for approved job training programs in high-paying and high-demand industries. This is exactly the type of investment adults need to get into jobs like the emerging careers at the Panasonic plant.

With the support of Great Jobs KC, adults aged 17 and older can learn faster, develop the skills needed to earn between $45,000 to $85,000 annually, and begin a fulfilling career in one year or less. KC Scholars provides access to childcare and transportation support to ensure that nothing gets in the way of completing the program and finding a great job. 

Achieving measurably positive results at scale will require collaboration, creativity, community constituent engagement, and the capacity to evolve as the needs and opportunities of the region shift and change. The good news is that the Kansas City region can meet this challenge. We have been working together for years. Now is the time to take all we have learned and prepare for this next generation of opportunity. The Kansas City region is unique in the number and scale of education and workforce development initiatives in place with measurably positive results and indicators.

For our Foundation, past programming was already on a path to support a diverse talent pipeline with more than 10,000 individuals over 10 years as they earn degrees, certifications, and other credentials positioning them for the lives and careers they want and deserve. KC Great Jobs, and other programs in development at the Foundation, aim to increase that number several times over.

The Foundation is applying its learning from multiple decades in preparing people for success beyond high school. Current and past programs have yielded direct impact for individuals while also informing the Foundation on what additional systematic items need to change to increase the impact of the work.

  • Students are 100% low or moderate income, more than 80% individuals of color, and more than 70% female.
  • Investments include $232 million in grants from the Kauffman Foundation through 2032.

KC Scholars

Since 2016, KC Scholars has provided scholarships and coaching support for more than 3,500 traditional and adult learners in pursuit of degrees and other workforce credentials. Conservatively, the expected number of regional KC Scholars college graduates during the next 10 years is at least 6,000, providing a reliable and diverse pipeline of young talent.

“I think KC Scholars does diversify the workforce because they do give people of color the opportunity of going to college. Once you’re entered in the program, they ask how you’re going to contribute to Missouri and Kansas in general,” says Chinecherem Ihenacho from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

Kauffman Scholars

Kauffman Scholars (the predecessor to KC Scholars) currently has an alumni network of more than 700 racially diverse college graduates who will grow to more than 800 by 2023, offering a strong and accessible network of young professionals building lives and careers in the KC region during the coming years.

Real World Learning

Called the most innovative and comprehensive education reform initiative in the country, Real World Learning (RWL) has engaged 31 school districts in Kansas and Missouri, representing 83,000 high school students, committed to 100% “market value asset” (MVA) acquisition – regionally-vetted internships, client projects, entrepreneurial experiences, industry-recognized credentials, and college credit – by 2032.

The Real World Learning summer pilot in 2022, ProX, built a regional infrastructure to support connections between students, educators, and employers at scale. It yielded the most diverse internship program in the country. The summer of 2023 will build on that success.

“This experience was beneficial because I got to speak to a real client, and I had to meet the needs and expectations of the client. It gave me a better grasp of a real-world experience. I liked the idea this wasn’t just a project for a grade – it actually impacted real people’s lives,” says Marquez G., 11th grade RWL student.