Kentucky must focus on building a better-skilled work force

Kentucky must focus on building a better-skilled work force

A high-profile issue this session of the General Assembly has been workforce education and development. Kentucky has advanced manufacturing facilities, especially in the auto and chemical manufacturing industries, unlike any other state, and we are grateful for the jobs they create.

As president and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, the issue I hear the most is that many of our students coming out of our secondary and postsecondary schools are not “work ready.”

We realize that all manufacturing facilities have to perform some hands-on training to fit the needs of their operations. However, our members tell us that many entry-level applicants do not have even the basic skills to be able to receive operation-specific training in our modern facilities.

Quite frankly, Kentucky’s workforce-development process is in need of an overhaul.

Manufacturers’ needs are much different today than they were 20 years ago. If we are to continue to grow in this sector and maintain these highly skilled positions, we must be able to produce quality employees with the math, science, analytical and teamwork skills needed.

The governor has made this a high priority by proposing a workforce investment fund of $100 million to be used in partnership with local communities experiencing growth in high-skilled jobs, including advanced manufacturing.

The issue is included in Senate Bill 1, which aims to produce college- and career-ready graduates by aligning standards and assessments as well as encouraging students to obtain workplace certificates while in high school.

In addition, there are currently two pending resolutions that would create task forces to examine the state’s current workforce education structure and funding. The Senate version, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem David Givens, creates a task force of legislators; the House version, sponsored by Rep. Larry Clark, creates a task force of legislators, the executive branch and private industry.

Both have merit and KAM will offer input as these two initiatives move forward.

We believe Kentucky policymakers should consider a focus much like they did on education reform in the early 1990s. It has to be an “all hands on deck” initiative. It must involve the Council on Postsecondary Education (including the Kentucky Community and Technical College System), the Kentucky Department of Education and the Workforce Development Cabinet, as well as the Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet.

It goes without saying that legislative leadership and the governor need to be heavily engaged in this initiative. At KAM, we always say that Kentucky’s manufacturing advantage is our people. I hope that continues to be the case.

By Greg Higdon, President & CEO, Kentucky Association of Manufacturers

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