Workforce needs take center stage at Kentucky Chamber summit

As the lack of a competitive workforce continues to be the number one concern for businesses in Kentucky, employers, educators, and people from all areas of Kentucky’s workforce system came together Wednesday to discuss how to address the issues the state faces in order to build a healthy and skilled workforce at the Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Kentucky Workforce Summit.

The Kentucky Workforce Summit: Solutions for Economic Competitiveness focused on key areas where greater employer involvement can make a positive difference for the productivity of their companies and the overall quality of Kentucky’s workforce including a focus on essential skills, career readiness, utilizing apprenticeship programs, and more.

Speakers and panelists throughout the day emphasized the need to move from a workforce system that has business and education on opposite sides of the table and instead use all of the resources available in the state to begin solving these issues.

dave-workforce-summitKentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson discussed the recent  launch of the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center and introduced the center’s executive director, Beth Davisson.

Davisson explained that the goal of the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center will be to ensure the business community’s voice is being heard when it comes to workforce and having their input at the forefront in the discussions on how to fix the system and better prepare people to become employees.

Another announcement was featured in the closing keynote as Education and Workforce Development Cabinet (EWDC) Secretary Hal Heiner and Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS) Executive Director Kate Akers, Ph.D. released the Kentucky Future Skills Report is the state’s first interactive report on workforce supply and demand.

heiner-workforce-summit“This report will provide much needed feedback to policymakers, practitioners, the business community and the public about the future of Kentucky’s workforce,” Secretary Heiner said. “It’s the first time in the Commonwealth and possibly the United States that a report has been this comprehensive when linking actual education and workforce data.”

The Kentucky Future Skills Report utilizes three components of education and workforce development in Kentucky: Historic Workforce Supply, Current Employment Outcomes and Future Workforce Demand.

“Kentuckians can now use an interactive tool to compare credential supply by State, Workforce Planning Region and Local Workforce Area,” said Akers. “The report represents more than 600,000 credentials from over 450,000 individuals over the past five years.”

Also at the summit, ensuring that students have the essential skills needed to be a successful member of the workforce was also a theme of the day.

panel-workforce-summitAs employers continue to struggle with employees who are unable to show up to work on time, interact well with others, dress properly for an interview or while on the job and other issues, many in the workforce world have been trying to decide how and when these skills should be taught.

In the panel on essential skills, Dr. Sara Watson explained that while many believe these skills should be taught at the middle or high school age, research shows that these basic abilities start at the earliest stages of a child’s development.

Others also discussed the ways communities in Kentucky are stepping up to ensure that students are prepared through skills programs being taught in schools, apprenticeship programs and more.

workforce-panel-2Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey detailed his cabinet’s efforts on apprenticeship programs, sharing impressive statistics including 87 percent of individuals who go through an apprenticeship program quickly find work after completion and many start at salaries around $50,000 a year. For more information on the state’s apprenticeship programs, watch Ramsey’s interview with The Bottom Line here.

Apprenticeships and other methods of employer engagement were also discussed in a panel of employers who all agreed that the time for businesses to get involved is now and stressed that it is critical for employers to find ways to help in their communities and through the workforce system.

Adkisson closed the program by ensuring that there will be another conference next year and encouraged businesses and others to work with the Chamber’s new Workforce Center during this time to begin bringing all the pieces together on this critical issue.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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