Business community discusses evolving needs of Kentucky’s workforce and talks solutions for employers

As Kentucky works to recover while still battling the coronavirus pandemic, the Kentucky Chamber testified in front of a Budget Review Sub Committee in the General Assembly to talk about how businesses are responding to the labor shortage, the evolving needs of workforce, and what the Kentucky Chamber is doing to help address this crisis.

Kentucky’s talent needs started before the pandemic; however, the current economic reality is making things even more difficult for employers—more than 43% of Kentuckians are not currently participating in Kentucky’s workforce.

In his testimony, Kentucky Chamber Senior Policy Analyst Charles Aull shared many ways employers across the Commonwealth are reacting to the workforce shortage, including wage increases, enhanced benefit packages, more flexibility and paid time off, finding ways to do more with less, investing in new technologies, scaling back operations, and much more.

Another way employers are coping with the labor force shortage, Aull said, is by reducing job qualification requirements and increasing investments in in-house training and on-the-job learning to address employee skills gaps. This approach has a lot of benefits but can also be costly for employers and harm economic growth and productivity. Increasing alignment between employer needs and education and workforce development programs through strategic partnerships, he said, offers a potential solution.

“Closing skills gaps and ensuring workers have the skills and experiences employers need should be an important policy goal for Kentucky,” said Aull. “One way to do that is through intentional partnerships between the business community and education and workforce development systems.”

Addressing Kentucky’s workforce shortage and skills gaps will require strategic partnerships, said Aull pointing to the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center’s work with the Kentucky Department of Education to create Talent Pipeline Management (TPM).

Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center Executive Director LaKisha Miller highlighted the Chamber’s work to build stronger alignment in our education and workforce systems and foster strategic relationships through Talent Pipeline Management (TPM). At the time TPM launched in 2017, a study found that 84% of businesses could not find the qualified workers needed to fill open positions. Miller explained that Kentucky’s skills gap is not new, and it’s something employers have been working to address through programs like TPM. The TPM program actively engages more than 200 employers across Kentucky, in various sectors like Manufacturing, Construction, Distilling, Equine and Healthcare. This alignment has resulted in 2,000 Kentuckians connected to jobs and training opportunities.

“With employers continuing to bear the load of training and upskilling their employees, continuing to invest in programs like Talent Pipeline Management can help to identify these training opportunities earlier and put us on a path to closing the skills gap,” said Miller.

Miller shared additional initiatives the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center have created to help address Kentucky’s workforce crisis.

To connect students to local employers to build long-term interest for in-demand careers the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center created Bus to Business, which has now engaged over 42,000 students and 110 businesses across the Commonwealth.

Miller also highlighted the Workforce Recovery Program, created in partnership with the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center and Kentucky Office for Drug Control Policy, to help businesses become more recovery friendly and teach employers the importance of giving job opportunities to Kentuckians in recovery.

Complimenting the efforts to help Kentuckians in recovery, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation is also working to educate Kentucky employers on becoming more reentry ready and offering second chances to individuals coming out of incarceration.

“When we have fewer workers, we need to make the most of the workforce we have.  For individuals who have struggled with substance use disorders and have been previously incarcerated but have committed to turning their lives around, second chances make all the difference,” Miller said.

Also at the committee meeting, Aull previewed a forthcoming Chamber report that will take a deep dive into the history of Kentucky’s workforce challenges, examine root causes, and propose innovative solutions. Stay tuned for the Kentucky Chamber’s upcoming workforce report on The Bottom Line.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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