It may come as a surprise to laid-off coal miners, but some places in Kentucky have become a job-hunter's market.
The statewide unemployment rate of 5 percent is the lowest in 15 years.
Average weekly earnings in Kentucky have grown 4.8 percent this year, twice as fast as the national average, reports the Associated Press' Adam Beam.
That figure is less impressive when you remember that Americans' wages have been stagnant for decades, Kentucky's median income is still $3,000 below 2007 levels and 56,000 Kentuckians labor for minimum wage or less.
But Beam did quote the owner of a tool and die shop in Henderson who has 50 high-paying jobs he can't fill. Also, much of the state's automakers' workforce is approaching retirement.
Employers who can't find workers have an obvious solution: Move to where there is a workforce.
Plus, businesses or industries looking to expand won't give a second glance to a place that's short of qualified workers.
By the same token, a highly qualified workforce acts as a magnet for employers and a catalyst for economic development, all of which underlines the urgency of finding smart ways to invest in Kentucky's human capital.
A recent study by the University of Kentucky's Center for Business and Economic Research estimates that raising Kentucky's education attainment to the national average would generate an annual gain of $900 million for the state, including up to $500 million in new tax revenue and savings of $200 million a year through reduced Medicaid spending.
The Council on Postsecondary Education, which commissioned the study, hopes to persuade lawmakers and the next governor that reversing years of funding cuts to higher education would pay the state direct dividends.
While that is inarguably true, higher education — especially the community and technical colleges — must do a better job of responding to the needs of Kentucky employers now.
Kentucky's young people are doing their part, enrolling in post-secondary education at about the national average — a dramatic turnaround in the state's college-going rate from just 25 years ago.
The increased college-going rate is testimony to the success of Kentucky's education reforms.
But, as CPE President Robert King told the Herald-Leader's Linda Blackford, there aren't enough 18-year-olds in the state's population to raise the workforce education levels to the national average. That means Kentucky must find better ways to help working-age adults, including hard-working coal miners, retool themselves for today's job market.