State and business leaders focus on talent development and reentry initiatives at 2020 Kentucky Workforce Summit

While finding and retaining the right employees continues to be a top priority for Kentucky businesses, state leaders and experts shared best practices and initiatives to address critical workforce and education issues at the 5th Annual Kentucky Workforce Conference.

IMG_8045Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Deputy Secretary Josh Benton talked about workforce objectives under the new administration, including quality opportunities and sustainable wages, reducing barriers to entering the workforce, aligning education systems and businesses, enhanced business services, and customer centered service.

Benton said while Kentucky is leading the nation in tackling workforce issues, there is more work to be done as Kentucky businesses still struggle to find employees. Currently, 3.9 percent of Kentuckians do not have jobs, there are 106,000 open jobs, and the workforce participation rate is at 61 percent.

Building Talent Pipelines

As the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center is in its second year of implementing Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) systems across the Commonwealth, panels of industry experts shared their initial experiences with using the TPM system.


A group of health care professionals discussed their struggles of finding employees in an evolving industry. They highlighted the importance of employers getting involved with TPM and the critical need to collaborate with competitors to identify problems, work to find solutions to the workforce shortage, and build pipelines to their future workforce.


“Knowledge is power,” said Peggy Justice of Pikeville Medical Center. “Being able to work collaboratively with your competitors not only helps us financially, it also helps grow the industry.”

A panel of experts in the construction industry and education systems shared their successes with the TPM system, which has led to businesses building relationships with education providers to recruit students as potential future employees. For example, Southside Technical Center has started a program of celebrating students who are recruited to a job or internship after high school with a “Signing Day,” giving students the same positive recognition as if they were recruited to a college sports team.


“I see three big wins, the first is partnership, second is strategy, and third is measurement,” AE Electrical Solutions President John Phillips said on his company’s new relationships with education providers. 

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Jaimie Francis said employers must make talent strategy as part of their overall business strategy, highlighting ways that TPM has assisted businesses with a systematic, data-driven approach to hiring and retaining workers.

Modern Day Talent Development and Career Exploration

rodenbergMichael Rodenberg, CEO of Murakami Manufacturing in Campbellsville, shared his anecdote of rebuilding and growing a company when the unemployment rate is low, incarceration, disability, and addiction is high. He initially found that growing from within is more efficient than the cost of turnover. But also, he strategically created community partnerships to help educate and give internship opportunities to students, thinking of them as Murakami’s potential future workforce.

“If the person at the top is not engaged in this, it will not happen,” said Rodenberg on transforming the business culture to prepare for the future.

IMG_8251One of the largest employers in South Central Kentucky, Logan Aluminum, created a program for retirees to come back and train newer employees to help solve the talent gap. To build a pipeline to their future workforce, Logan Aluminum worked closely with education providers to form apprenticeship programs and has focused on recruiting populations like immigrants and veterans for new talent opportunities. Logan Aluminum Human Resource Leader David Fusting credits their success to being “an employer of choice” to their strong engagement in the community.

IMG_8151Kentucky schools have also taken the initiative to meet the demand of businesses. For example, Barren County High School has recognized the need to prepare students for workforce demands by creating innovative, project-based learning opportunities based on their career interests. One high school senior said when talking about his education experience, “it feels like traditional school underserves the entrepreneurial mindset.”

IMG_8262Recruiting employees is the top issue for employers during the workforce shortage, but effectively retaining employees must also be a top priority for businesses, said Danny Nelms of the Work Institute. “When did we decide that turnover is just the cost of doing business,” asked Nelms. “Businesses must take the time to look inward, make the effort to listen to employees, and take initiative to solve problems.”

Criminal Justice and the Opioid Epidemic 

Businesses have experienced the effects of the opioid epidemic, recognizing it is one of the top barriers to employment. While Kentucky is seeing a workforce shortage, there is a large number of citizens who are incarcerated.

IMG_8174Kayla Parsons shared her story of recovery and talked about the various offerings of Addiction Recovery Care. She emphasized the return on investment for patients, communities, and businesses as a result of adding workplace training with recovery treatment.

Jason Merrick, director of addiction services for Kenton County Detention Center, said it is essential to eliminate the gap between incarceration and employment with education, job skills, and basic life training. He stressed the importance of a solid road for recovery with reentry programs and second chances.

IMG_8221“Take a chance on them and see what happens. You’ll find some of the most hardworking men and women,” said Merrick when talking about the need for a culture shift around hiring people with substance use disorder and who have been incarcerated.

Panelists discussed the dramatic impact the substance abuse disorder has had on the criminal justice system. The conversation was centered around the importance of connectivity— connecting the addicted with a recovery-friendly environment, support group, and job.

State Entities Taking on Reentry Efforts 

IMG_8245To support individuals in recovery, the Kentucky Opioid Response Effort, Office for Drug Control Policy, and Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program created the Strategic Initiative for Transformational Employment. The program places a specialist at every Kentucky Career Center office across the state, with the mission to support individuals in recovery seeking employment, job training, and education as well as train employers.

ERPNNpiWAAI7d5KAdditionally, the South Central Workforce Development Board (SCWDB) has created multiple reentry programs for those who have been incarcerated. Dr. Robert Boone, president and CEO of the South Central Workforce Development Board, highlighted a few programs they have developed, including Linking Employment to Activities Pre-Release (LEAP) and Court2Career. These programs are aimed to help formerly incarcerated individuals become prepared for the workforce, locate and retain employment, connect with expungement resources, seek treatment for substance abuse disorder, and secure temporary housing and transportation.

In addition to state entities helping address workforce needs, the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center launched the Opioid Response Program for Business in 2019 to help businesses be more equipped to handle addiction in the workplace. Click here to learn more about this program.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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