State and national leaders highlight successful initiatives and workforce trends

As employers struggle to find employees, workforce, education, and economic experts from across the commonwealth and nation met at the 4th Annual Kentucky Workforce Summit to share successful initiatives, data, best practices, anecdotes and more.

Below are highlights from the two-day conference:

Workforce Update

IMG_2386The dialogue on workforce development has changed drastically over the past ten years, said Deputy Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Josh Benton while giving an overview of the state of Kentucky’s workforce.

He commended the partnership between the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center and Kentucky Education and Workforce and Development Cabinet, developing and implementing Talent Pipeline Management (TPM), policy work in reforming Kentucky’s unemployment insurance system, and the Chamber’s role with the recent executive order by Gov. Matt Bevin, Kentucky Works Collaborative.

Benton, among many speakers, touched on the fact that baby boomers are about to retire, with a historically small amount of people behind them. Employers must think about the way they are going to engage future employees, including the 20,000 students per year that are not going on to postsecondary education.

“Workforce issues are often being blamed on the “skills gap,” but Benton said Kentucky is experiencing a “skills mismatch,” not necessarily a skills shortage. The jobs are there but we’re not making the connections like we should, he said.

A National Perspective

IMG_2691Speaking on the national initiatives to address workforce issues, Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Center for Education and Workforce, said the solution to workforce issues is not in Washington — businesses must take the lead.

“How do we get the federal government to support the things happening in places like Kentucky?” Oldham said, touting Kentucky for being a leader for business, workforce innovation, and for implementing Talent Pipeline Management, created by the U.S. Chamber Foundation.

Talent Pipeline Management

IMG_2452Talent Pipeline Management has allowed companies to find similar problems, align their needs, plan for the future, and solve workforce needs.

While talking about the power of collaboration through Talent Pipeline Management, John Phillips, president and CEO of Art’s Electric, said to think about the power behind getting a few people together to solve a problem rather than trying to solve the problem yourself.

“We’re in a crisis,” Phillips said while discussing the motivations for getting involved in TPM. “I don’t like having customers beg me to do something, and me not be able to do it because I don’t have the people.”

Filling Jobs with Qualified Workers

Several speakers shared initiatives that are working to connect businesses and education systems creating hands-on job experiences for students.

IMG_2592Programs like Career Academies inside Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) have helped to break down the mystery of what goes on inside of a business like UPS, answering the question students often ask, “why are you making me learn this?”

Now 14 out of 16 JCPS high schools, 17,000 students, are enrolled in career academies, meaning they will graduate high school with an industry-recognized credential.

IMG_2808Interns from Yum! Brands shared their take on the impact of internships on students. The company has seen a great amount of success from its internship program, with a majority getting hired on as a full-time employee after high school.

“The key is we have got to work together and be a part of the solution,” said Chairman of the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center Kim Menke when discussing the importance of hands-on job experience.

Using Data to Solve Workforce Issues

IMG_2718As employers and educators are trying to understand the changing job market, experts look to data to understand what is happening in the economy. Dr. Allen Zeman, president of Center for Human Capital Innovation, shared statistics on the workforce demographics based on age, gender, and more.

For instance, women currently hold as many college degrees as men and 50% more women earn graduate degrees than men but are not seeing the same upward mobility. In turn, he said the number of women-owned firms increased by 68% between 1997 and 2014, while the total number of businesses increased by 47%.

IMG_2823Businesses, now more than ever, must adapt to engage current and future employees. While most conversations are focused on recruiting new employees, Work Institute President Danny Nelms said retaining existing employees is even more important.

He said 41 million people quit their jobs voluntarily last year, and three out of four reasons people typically leave their jobs are preventable. Companies must understand what those preventable reasons are and how to fix them.

Speakers called on employers to take time to understand the workforce trends being discussed as well as how to handle a diverse workforce.

Next Steps

IMG_2240When talking about next steps in working collaboratively to solve Kentucky’s workforce issues, Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center Executive Director Beth Davisson said, “Everyone is needed, especially as we look at economic development and workforce development, we can’t leave anyone behind.”

For more information or to get involved with the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center initiatives, please contact

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Jacqueline Pitts
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