Kentucky's Workforce Challenges: The Employers' Perspective, released yesterday by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, comes at an opportune time.
Kentucky is in the middle of a race for governor. We've just emerged from over a year of revelations about some regional workforce agencies — including in the Bluegrass — which appeared to be more focused on self-perpetuation than job training.
The federal government, which provides a huge portion of the money for workforce training in Kentucky and elsewhere, has just overhauled the system to improve accountability, transparency and relevancy.
This is a moment when a lot of things are changing, or could change, and it's interesting and instructive to hear from employers, at least those who are members of the Kentucky Chamber and chose to respond to a survey.
The chamber reports that taxpayers aren't getting a return on investment. Despite millions spent on job readiness, employers find too many job applicants and employees ill-prepared educationally, technically and socially.
In addition, the respondents said they're often confused about who's in charge of state or federal job-training monies locally and have trouble navigating the system. Finally, and this can come as no surprise, many potential workers can't pass drug tests.
The chamber's recommendations include a review of the entire system as a first priority for the next governor.
That, at least, seems easily accomplished, something a new chief executive would jump at to gain traction on job-readiness issues.
More challenging, and expensive, are the chamber's recommendations to incorporate work readiness in school curricula, including testing to assure proficiency, and increase access to early childhood development programs.
It also recommends that applicants be required to pass a drug test before qualifying for job-training programs, something federal law allows and other states require. In that same vein, the report notes the need for more drug treatment and prevention.
There is a price tag for all this, of course, and one that Kentucky will never be able to consistently pay without comprehensive tax reform, including increasing some taxes. If the chamber is serious about upping our job readiness game it needs to lead the charge for tax reform.