In 2015, we began to have in-depth conversations with emerging industry leaders in our community. They were in search of talent that could communicate effectively and solve problems in a rapidly changing technological environment. As one COO of a cyber security company put it: “I don’t care about the math, we need people who can think and solve challenges we’ve never had before.” We hear this need for creative, critical thinkers repeatedly from industry leaders in every sector. A recent poll of CEOs found that they deemed creativity to be “the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future.”

Understanding the need for our education systems to cultivates a mind-set in which students gain more experience in creative and critical thinking with real world problems, the Paducah Public Schools began to envision an Innovation Hub that would allow for exploration in the 21st century world of work through more project based learning. They then won a grant for this space for $3.8M fro the Kentucky Workforce and Education Cabinet.

Knowing this, we have spent the last two years gathering input and data from schools, parents, students and meeting with local industry. We know the “sit and get” style of learning that was good for production line work needs to be replaced with in-person opportunities to actively apply knowledge as solutions to real world problems.

And we need to start early.

What we’ve learned is that the problem we are trying to solve comes before the career and technical education journey of high school.

We will begin with Sprocket.

What is Sprocket?

Sprocket Makerspace is a non-profit innovation startup; it is a place to create and develop programs for education, entrepreneurship, and community learning. Our mission is to unlock the potential inherent in underserved populations. Many youth and adults lack awareness and knowledge of the opportunities of the new world of work. Consequently, they do not pursue tech related career paths. The jobs exist, but the people to fill them do not.

Our place is a makerspace that allows for connections with people, experiences and opportunity for skill uplift in the digital economy. It supports entrepreneurial development, rapid talent creation, and accessibility for all youth.

Sprocket will be housed in donated space at the Coke Plant, 3121 Broadway, Paducah, Kentucky. This building is itself an award-winning economic development project; a renovated historic place now home to four thriving locally owned businesses

The 4,000-square foot donated space will be utilized for our 3-year pilot, and we anticipate it remain in operation and evolving indefinitely. The Coke Plant is a vibrant community center, walkable from three schools, and only 2 miles from universities and the community college. Our makerspace will be available for students and adults through memberships, partnering agencies, and educational partners. It will provide access and workshops for fabrication and digital tools.

We will serve lifelong learners, tinkerers, engineering students, art and design students, regional Kindergarten – 12th grade students, entrepreneurs, and those who wish to explore career opportunities in emerging industry.

We believe the greatest impact, however, will begin to be felt in those Sprocket learners who are middle school aged and younger.