Kentucky continues to struggle with workforce participation in many ways. The Kentucky Chamber testified in front of legislators Thursday about its new report on the troubling trends of the last 20 years on the workforce front and the solutions that could help the state improve.
Kentucky Chamber Senior Policy Analyst Dr. Charles Aull said the Chamber’s new report, “20 Years in the Making- Kentucky’s Workforce Crisis,” has not gone unnoticed as people are talking about Kentucky’s workforce challenges and outlets across Kentucky are focused on the issue.
Aull told lawmakers the Chamber’s report comes as the business community seeks to reframe the conversation and offer data-driven solutions that can be implemented to ensure progress on this issue.
For more than 20 years, Kentucky has been lagging far behind the national average of workforce participation with a huge drop due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kentucky has not recovered as quickly as the rest of the country from the pandemic with the state still sitting at 90,000 fewer workers than the start of the pandemic.
This gap between national and Kentucky’s rate, Aull said, is what catches attention and what makes Kentucky unique when looking at surrounding states as the state ranks 48th.
Root causes of Kentucky’s low workforce participation rate issues include:
- Skills gaps and lower-than-average rates of post-secondary attainment;
- Lack of access to affordable, high-quality childcare;
- Health and substance use disorder;
- Infrastructure, transportation, and broadband;
- Incarceration, re-entry, and criminal records
- Benefit cliffs and social security net programs
- Slow population growth
Solutions to these issues must be as multifaceted as the root causes themselves, Aull said. Some of the solutions provided to lawmakers through the report include:
- Improved tracking and evaluation of workforce programming and spending
- Make FASFA a high school grad requirement to ensure Kentucky students understand their options for financial assistance for higher education
- Remove barriers to education and employment of individuals with criminal records including expanded availability of record expungement as well as extending access to KEES funds to those who are formally incarcerated to ensure they are able to get higher education
- Build on progress made in improving the competitiveness of Kentucky’s tax code to ensure that the code encourages people to come work and live in the state including lowering income tax
- Optimize Kentucky’s UI system for rapid re-employment through a stronger work search requirement and more effective re-employment support for unemployed workers
- Expand and improve the Child Care Assistance Program so that it works better for providers and is accessible to more families
- Reduce smoking rates by removing smokers as a protected class and raising the cigarette tax
LaKisha Miller, executive director of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Workforce Center, said to combat these issues and bridge the gap, the organization has many programs and partnerships including the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Workforce Center, Kentucky Transformational Employment, and Talent Pipeline Management (TPM).
Through these initiatives, hundreds of employers have been engaged with these programs to ensure businesses have the talent they need for their open positions, pathways are being provided to employers to employers to help more Kentuckians reach long-term recovery while supporting fair chance employment, and 2,000 Kentuckians have been connected to jobs and opportunities as a result of TPM.
Miller emphasized these business-led solutions have helped lead to improved outcomes across the state and the Chamber will continue to take action on these fronts.