Students, would-be students and parents checked out virtual reality training during a recent open house at the KC Tech Academy.
The KC Tech Academy has held classes at rented facilities in the Heartland Meadows Business Park in Liberty for two years. Initially launched in partnership with a single automotive parts supplier, the academy today is on its way to creating a regional learning center for a growing number of high-paying technical jobs in Clay County and across the country.
Executive Director Kim Palomarez said a multiyear, $6.4-million development program is under way to create a training campus that could graduate 500 students a year in fields like advanced manufacturing. When completely operational, the academy would generate a substantial workforce available for jobs demanded by a growing numbers of today’s businesses.
The effort represents a recognition that American industry can grow, but only if it has enough workers trained in today’s technical fields. “What skills are industries involved in that they need people for?” she asked. “That’s what we’re focusing on.” Significantly, these businesses and their in-demand jobs pay salaries starting above $50,000 a year for recent graduates.
A 501c3 organization, the academy was launched in 2018 as a training program for LMV Automotive, located near the program’s current location in Heartland Meadows. Originally aimed at high school students in Kearney and Liberty, it became obvious that other businesses in Clay County’s growing manufacturing base also needed workers with similar training.
“We know we’re covering what their needs are,” Palomarez said. “There are enough similarities [between these companies] that other businesses can use this.”
Having a trained workforce and the ability to train more is a high priority for other companies, often more important than a tax break or other incentives. “Liberty and Clay County can say, ‘The tech academy is here, and they can train your workforce,’” Palomarez said. “We’ve already had inquiries from others around Greater Kansas City. Workforce training today is critical.”
Already, nearly 50 businesses are involved, forming a core of the academy’s growing support. The companies provide everything from financial assistance to expertise, equipment and more.
With the academy’s potential to bring job growth, the city of Liberty views it as significant and has earmarked support for its development. The Clay County Economic Council last year identified the academy as one of its Big 4 Strategic Plan projects for the next five years. Funding requests have been submitted to Missouri, including one for a Community Development Block Grant involving workforce development. An announcement is expected in June.
The Academy's initial student population focuses on area high school students, but ultimately would include younger students as well as adults. Likewise, classes will expand to those at the academy plus courses held in area school districts facilities. Recently approved by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (https://www.sme.org), the academy is communicating with other career centers, additional school districts and colleges.
“We have enough now to get started in several directions,” Palomarez concluded. “There’s a lot of work to do, but things are coming together.”
For more information, visit the Academy’s website, kctechacademy.com.