Current state of workforce and innovations practices highlighted at Kentucky Chamber Summit

In the midst of the ongoing workforce shortage, Kentucky businesses, workforce development partners, and human resource experts gathered at the 7th Annual Workforce Summit to discuss solutions, best practices, and resources to help address hiring and retention needs.

Initiatives of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation

Opening the event, Kentucky Chamber Foundation Workforce Center Executive Director LaKisha Miller highlighted recent initiatives to help address Kentucky’s workforce issues, including the Foundation’s recently-released report “20 Years in the Making, Kentucky’s Workforce Crisis.”

As the Commonwealth continues to work on solutions to Kentucky’s workforce crisis, Kentucky Chamber Foundation Talent Pipeline System Director Sara Tracy said it is important to note the root causes of the state’s workforce issues. The causes laid out in the Chamber’s workforce report include the fact that 48% of Kentuckians have skills training beyond high school while 58% of jobs require such training, 1.2 million Kentuckians reside in childcare deserts, nearly 3.2 million baby boomers retired in 2020, and Kentucky’s 49% increase in overdose deaths in 2020.

The Kentucky Chamber Foundation has developed and cultivated programs that are working to address these root causes. Tracy focused on Talent Pipeline Management, a statewide program that engages employers by working with them to project their short and long-term workforce needs, form and participate in industry collaboratives, and establish relationships with education and workforce development partners.

After four years of work, the Talent Pipeline Management team has created 31 industry collaboratives, engaged over 200 employers, evaluated over 200 jobs, and connected over 3,000 Kentuckians. Tracy shared outcomes from multiple partnerships in sectors including the equine, health care, and construction industries.

The State of The Workforce

Two of the Commonwealth’s leaders in education and workforce, Kentucky Labor Secretary Jamie Link and Kentucky Education and Workforce Cabinet Acting Deputy Secretary Mary Pat Regan, addressed attendees and provided an update on how Kentucky is doing in terms of workforce.

Secretary Link shared the current landscape of Kentucky’s workforce coming out of the coronavirus pandemic. While many of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic have since been recovered, he said there is a critical need to prepare for the jobs that are being created as a result of Kentucky’s record-breaking economic investment announcements.

He also highlighted the partnership between the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet and the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Talent Pipeline Management program that is working to help employers create long-term talent solutions.

“We have to train our way out of the skills gap, and it will take all of us to elevate our citizen’s job skills and employability,” said Link.

To help address the skills gap and push Kentucky forward, Deputy Secretary Regan shared multiple programs the Commonwealth has launched to create a diverse talent pool and ensure jobs stay in the state.

The Future of Work, Jobs, and Skills

As organizations look to reshape for the future, speakers focused on how employers can bring lasting, positive change to their organization in terms of hiring and retaining talent.

Kelley Bright and LaCinda Glover of Mercer, an asset management company, framed their conversation by sharing current labor statistics. Currently, the nation is experiencing a labor force participation rate of 61.6 percent, a net loss of 3.8 million women in the workforce since 2020, and a record-breaking quit rate of more than three percent among hourly workers and mid-career professionals.

“Workplaces must be more flexible than ever,” said Glover, sharing the ways employers are internally responding to current workforce challenges. These methods include enhancing workplace flexibility, reevaluating compensation and benefits, evaluating talent sourcing strategies, investing in diversity, equity and inclusion, well-being and mental health, and more.

Using industry-recognized certifications is another method employers can use to address specific workforce needs, recognize and grow talent, and help disadvantaged workers to navigate new career opportunities. Certifications through Kentucky FAME and KentuckianaWorks are being used by employers to support talent pipelines and provide data-driven decisions.

Speakers encouraged employers to utilize the many existing networks and resources available to help employers diversify recruitment strategies through the Kentucky Career Center.

Demonstrating Corporate Leadership

Business leaders that serve on the Kentucky Chamber and Kentucky Chamber Foundation Board of Directors from Brown-Forman Corporation, Fifth-Third Bank, Republic Bank, and the Kentucky Chamber Foundation had a conversation on corporate leadership and the business community’s role in transforming the state.

Davisson began the conversation by asking panelists, “what is the state of the workforce in Kentucky?” Brown-Forman Vice President and Director of State and Local Public Affairs Les Fugate stressed the need for everyone to work together and think ahead to solve the needs of today as well as tomorrow.

Also, when asked about the meaning of the urban-rural divide, panelists discussed critical issues surrounding race, the need for local job opportunities, and overall better collaboration as a state. “We are going to have to collaborate and come together and recognize those differences make us stronger,” said Republic Bank Chief Development Officer William Summers.

As the coronavirus pandemic has caused workplaces to shift, employers are working to navigate the new normal. To address this, Summers said Republic Bank has made a concerted effort of becoming more employee-focused and ensuring the company listens to what their employees want.

Fifth Third Bank Kentucky Regional President Kim Halbauer said they have had to navigate the balance of flexibility while maintaining their company culture. Employers are also paying more attention to childcare than ever, she said while noting the number of women leaving the workforce due to childcare issues. “We must recognize these barriers and make sure we don’t fall backward from a diversity perspective,” said Halbauer.

As businesses are working to make their workplaces more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, Demetria Miles-McDonald of Decide Diversity encouraged employers to be intentional and seek out ways to bring those with diverse backgrounds and opinions into day-to-day operations.

Also, Jopwell Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs Dr. Devon Lee noted the importance of unlearning implicit bias and addressing hiring practices that are exclusive.

“You don’t change lives by checking a box,” said Halbauer when discussing the role of employers to make a long-term impact on Kentucky.

Expanding Your Workforce with Untapped Talent

During her presentation, O’Donnell shared recommendations of making second-chance hiring part of corporate culture, establishing second chance hiring as a business model and not just a program, providing training and work support, establishing mentorships, and defaulting to transparency while maintaining confidentiality.

With over 600,000 individuals being released from incarceration each year, now is the time to engage this untapped pool of talent to help solve workforce needs, said Sam Hanna and Vinita Musapeta of the Center for Employment Opportunities during a discussion on second-chance employment.

Incarceration has particularly had a major impact on women, Hanna shared. Between 1980 and 2019, the number of incarcerated women increased by more than 700%, rising from a total of 26,378 in 1980 to 222,455 in 2019. Currently, Kentucky ranks fourth-highest in the nation for female incarceration.

Panelists offered suggestions to tap into this particular talent pool, which includes working with local colleges and community organizations, probation and parole departments, and reentry programs. Additionally, they urged businesses to signal that they are a second chance employer by leveraging recruitment materials, a diversity, equity and inclusion statement, and by word of mouth.

As incarceration costs taxpayers around $80 billion a year, the Kentucky Chamber Foundation has developed initiatives to help find meaningful employment for Kentuckians in need and teach businesses how to become second chance employers. Learn more about those initiatives at

A panel of workforce development representatives from across the state discussed the importance of thinking outside traditional talent pools by hiring veterans, individuals in recovery or coming out of incarceration, Kentuckians with disabilities, immigrants, and more.

These populations have an “intrinsic motivation to do well,” said Clean Right Crew CEO Luke Embree while sharing his company’s success in working with the Kentucky Career Center to hire refugees.

During discussions on how employers can expand workforce opportunities, learned about how companies are using industry-recognized certifications and registered apprenticeship programs to help address specific workforce needs, recognize and grow talent, help disadvantaged workers to navigate new career opportunities, and more.

“Rather than spending money on recruiting and bringing people in, take the time to train the employees you currently have, which will result in increased retention and loyal employees,” said Lawrence Winburn of the Kentucky Career Center.

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