Experts discuss workforce needs of Kentucky following release of Chamber report

After the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce released a workforce report detailing the challenges facing the state’s workforce, experts gathered at the 10th annual Business Summit to discuss what can be done to prepare Kentuckians for the jobs available.
The panel started with a video put together by the Chamber to explain some of the details of the workforce report. View the video below:

The new workforce report, which follows a year’s review of the state workforce system by a Chamber-organized group representing employers from different sectors and geographic regions, shows the need for big changes to the system that will require the work of both business and government to help the state move forward by expanding and maintaining a highly skilled, competitive workforce.

Susan Simmons, chair of Kentucky SHRM and the executive Vice President of Central Bank, noted the huge skills gaps being seen by employers especially in the area of soft skills which includes having applicants who are able to communicate well with others and be professional. 

Amanda Huddleston of People Plus Inc. expressed concern about the lack of interview skills among job applicants, even noting she has seen people come into interviews in their pajamas. 

Among the Chamber’s recommendations in the report is a suggestion that Kentucky should develop and incorporate soft skills/work readiness certification into its College and Career Readiness requirements for schools, including regular assessments to ensure the demonstrated proficiency of these skills.

Kim Menke, of Kentucky Toyota Motor Manufacturing, said they have partnered with some education outlets to help students go through training programs and gain skills they need to enter the workforce. 

From the Toyota perspective, Menke said one of the most important things they look for is someone who is committed to the position and said it is becoming increasingly hard to find applicants that are able to pass a drug test.

“If you cant be drug-free at the job, how can you be safe for yourself and those around you? So that’s an automatic disqualifier,” Menke said.  

Incorporate drug screenings into the application process for workforce training programs is one of the recommendations in the Chamber’s workforce report.

The panel, moderated by Kentucky Chamber consultant Diana Taylor, was asked how the system can be strengthened enough to make employers feel that the workforce is prepared, as a survey presented in the report showed less than 10 percent of employers believe the workforce have good skills.

Menke echoed remarks of Hugh Haydon (in the video above) and said new federal legislation passed provides the state with the ability to blow up the current system and start over, which he said is an opportunity the state really needs to take advantage of. 

“Business has not only got to be working with post-secondary and community colleges, but we need to be working with the local school boards as well,” Menke said.

The experts also discussed the generational differences that are causing some of the skills gaps that exist within the workforce. 

Video of all Summit sessions will be available on the Chamber’s YouTube session next week.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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