Government, education, business and public policy leaders discuss root causes and innovative solutions to Kentucky’s workforce crisis

On Monday, KET hosted “Filling Kentucky Jobs,” a forum that brought together leaders from different industries to delve into the issues behind Kentucky’s workforce crisis and creative solutions to ensure the state has a healthy and skilled workforce. The panel featured many panelists including:

  • Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson,
  • Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner,
  • Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey,
  • Kentucky Community & Technical College System President Dr. Jay Box,
  • Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board Executive Director Melissa Aguilar,
  • Kentucky Center for Economic Policy executive director Jason Bailey,
  • Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley,
  • SOAR Executive Director Jared Arnett

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Adkisson said “we have the mentality of needing “all hands-on deck” to tackle Kentucky’s workforce crisis.

Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics’ Kate Shirley Akers touched on the importance of alignment between secondary education, postsecondary education and the workforce.

“We are about 200,000 people short in this state in terms of the number of people that have the ability to fill these middle skilled jobs,” Heiner cited a report by the Department of Labor. “The jobs that allow them to move onto a middle socioeconomic level and allows the companies, the great companies we have here to expand.”

The forum mentioned the programs Kentucky is developing to help transition inmates back into the workforce. Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Tilley said “for those who have a job for one year or more when they get out, they have a recidivism rate, a re-offense rate, of about 16 percent. For those who do not, it’s 52 percent…If we are not employing returning felons, they are going to go back to prison and that is bad for public safety.”

Adkisson, cited three root causes of Kentucky’s low workforce participation rate as addiction, incarceration and disability. He mentioned Kentucky’s disability rate is between 80 and 90 percent higher than the national average and rank third in opioid deaths in the nation. Furthermore, the Cabinet of Health and Family Services Secretary Glisson shed light on the correlation between having a disability and the chances of an opioid addiction, and the importance of getting those particular people into jobs.

Kentucky Labor Cabinet Secretary Derrick Ramsey, reiterated Adkisson’s phrase of having “all hands-on deck” when traveling the state to spread the concept of apprenticeship programs with Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Secretary Heiner, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Tilley, and Cabinet of Health and Family Services Secretary Glisson.

Toyota is one of the companies to adopt an apprenticeship-like program through a partnership with Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing and Education (FAME) and Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC), which is a model for companies around the nation. General Electric and Bit Source, an Eastern Kentucky company that transforms coal miners into computer coders, also shared their company’s innovative approach to workforce participation.

For Eastern Kentucky, the conversation centered around entrepreneurship, and the conversation in Western Kentucky was about transitioning veterans to the workforce.

“The more that we can partner with employers in these type of programs, the quicker we can get people out into the workforce,” said Kentucky Community & Technical College System president Dr. Jay Box.

Adkisson summarized Kentucky’s workforce needs and situations pertaining to each area of Kentucky. “You can’t just create policies and programs in Frankfort with one size fits all, we’re going to have to make them very distinct to the regions.”

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