FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky’s workforce training and development programs need better coordination, greater accountability and more employer involvement, according to a new report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Achieving those and other goals detailed in the report’s recommendations will require a top-to-bottom review of the entire system – a review that the Chamber believes should be ordered by the next governor.
Kentucky’s Workforce Challenges: The Employer Perspective notes there is a lot of confusion about workforce programs at the local level, there is frustration in the business community about its role in local and regional workforce decisions, there is uncertainty about the return on investment of these workforce programs, and there is a maze of state and federal workforce programs that is difficult, if not impossible, for business people to navigate.
The report follows a year’s review of the state workforce system by a Chamber-organized group representing employers from different sectors and geographic regions.
The review began in response to the continuing frustrations voiced by employers about the challenges they encounter with Kentucky’s programs and their ability to find skilled workers for the jobs they have available. A recent poll of Chamber members reflected those frustrations: Less than 10 percent of the respondents believe the overall workforce has good skills.
“Effective workforce training and service programs are critical to ensuring a successful future for countless businesses across Kentucky, the people they employ, and the state as a whole,” the report noted. “But more must be done if the state is to expand and sustain a highly skilled, globally competitive workforce.”
The report noted that Kentucky has made strides in improving the education of its citizens, but challenges persist in the area of workforce development. Those include:
- Insufficient involvement by employers to make changes in training programs that address demand-side needs
- A lack of clarity about the community-level service delivery of state programs, particularly in regard to which agency or individual is in charge
- The need for greater communications and outreach to employers and job seekers about available programs, how to access information, the need for specific training and skill development, and related issues
- Ongoing issues related to the governance, management and coordination of workforce programs
- The need for improved employability skills, or soft skills, such as attendance, communication and teamwork, among job seekers
- Increasing difficulties in finding drug-free job applicants
- Inconsistent use of credentials, by employers, job seekers and educational institutions
- Insufficient coordination among educational institutions, economic development agencies and workforce programs
Although employers provide the bulk of workforce training, the report pointed out that private employers depend heavily on the public sector – beginning with elementary and secondary schools and continuing through postsecondary institutions and workforce development programs – to provide critical preparation and training for job candidates.
The report included the following recommendations to improve Kentucky’s efforts to create and sustain a high quality workforce.
To address issues related to organization, funding, accountability and governance and to effectively engage employers:
- As Kentucky’s next governor takes office, his first act in support of job creation and retention should be to order an organizational and management review of the state’s workforce training and development system. The review should be conducted by an independent entity not aligned with any Kentucky program and should define the specific governance, management, and operational structure that would best meet the needs of Kentucky employers and workers. The governor should be personally involved with this review before finalizing the cabinet structure of his administration.
- Kentucky should develop and maintain an asset map – updated regularly and released publicly – that identifies all funding sources and provides a framework for accountability for state and local spending and results.
- Agreements that guide the operation of local workforce areas (known as interlocal agreements) should include provisions requiring that the dominant business organization or association in the area be responsible for naming employer members of the workforce boards.
- The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce should issue an annual assessment of whether local workforce boards are engaging employers in meaningful and productive ways.
- State workforce officials and business leaders should jointly develop a structure to ensure meaningful employer participation in the development of Kentucky’s state and local plans under the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and employers should actively participate in state and local workforce boards and committees to implement WIOA.
- The Governor should direct set-aside funds under WIOA to support the development of employer-led collaboratives to guide workforce initiatives.
- The state’s business community should develop a focused voice on workforce issues to advance the interests of both small and large employers.
To promote what is available:
- State workforce officials and business leaders should jointly develop and implement an outreach campaign, that includes local chambers of commerce, economic development corporations and workforce boards, to raise awareness of workforce programs.
To address issues related to employability:
- Kentucky should develop and incorporate soft skills/work readiness certification into its College and Career Readiness requirements for schools, including regular assessments to ensure the demonstrated proficiency of these skills.
- Kentucky should continue and expand its support for quality early childhood programs as a workforce development strategy.
- As Kentucky continues to expand drug treatment and prevention programs, it should incorporate drug screening into the application process for workforce training programs.
To strengthen the use of appropriate credentials:
- Business organizations and chambers of commerce should develop working groups of employers to identify, by sector, credentials that best reflect the skills needed for successful performance in the workplace.
The report also emphasized the importance of employer involvement.