Both youth and employers would win if Ky. expands proven program

 S. Caruso 
is executive 
director of Jobs for Kentucky's Graduates based in Louisville.
Lawrence S. Caruso is executive director of Jobs for Kentucky's Graduates based in Louisville.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce released a report this summer entitled, "Kentucky's Workforce Challenges." Employers surveyed for the report identified the lack of "soft" skills as the primary difficulty encountered in addressing their employment needs.

As defined by the chamber, soft skills, or employability skills, include understanding the importance of showing up for work, communicating well with others, being able to work as part of a team, taking responsibility for one's actions and managing time effectively.

To address this concern, the chamber recommended the development and implementation of K-12 soft skills training programs into classroom curriculum along with incorporating a soft-skills/work-readiness certification into college and career readiness requirements.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as such a curriculum has been taught in schools throughout Kentucky since 1993.

Jobs for Kentucky's Graduates is the state affiliate of Jobs for America's Graduates. For over 35 years, JAG has been dedicated to helping students overcome barriers to graduation and transition into postsecondary education, the workforce or the military. JAG programs work with at-risk middle-school and high-school students, teaching them employability skills along with leadership- and team-building aptitudes through competency-based curriculum modules.

Specialists mentor the students year-round while they are in school and for a year after graduation, instilling in them a belief that they can succeed in school and in life. This strong relationship allows for a personalized assessment of each student's particular aptitudes and interests and guides the student along the best-suited path.

JAG programs operate in 1,000 schools in 32 states, serving approximately 47,000 students. Ten sitting governors serve on the JAG board along with state and national legislators; community leaders and representatives of corporate partners, which include AT&T, Archer Daniels Midland Co., Integrity Staffing Solutions, JP Morgan Chase, General Electric, HCA, Inc., McDonald's USA, Microsoft Corporation, Shell Oil, UnitedHealth Group and the Business Roundtable.

Students in the class of 2013-14 achieved the following successes:

■ 97 percent graduation rate.

■ 88 percent demonstrated positive outcomes (with jobs, in postsecondary education and/or the military one year after graduation).

■ 46 percent went on to further their educations.

With Kentucky's recent implementation of the compulsory attendance age of 18, school districts need effective strategies and programs for re-engaging disconnected youth who might have otherwise dropped out.

To ensure the continued success and growth of the Kentucky program, it is vital that it be recognized as part of the state's career readiness certification program, either as a stand-alone program or as an approved elective.

Most JAG programs operating in other states have some form of state appropriation, along with state-directed federal funds where available. For example, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence worked with the General Assembly to secure a nearly $6 million appropriation, used to almost double the number of JAG schools there from 60 to 118 last year.

The Kentucky program now operates in eight schools in seven communities. Our kids deserve better. The employers of the commonwealth need youth who have the soft skills to succeed in the workplace. We provide the tools necessary for Kentucky's youth to achieve that success.

So call your legislators and school district leaders and encourage them to ensure the Kentucky Department of Education recognizes the JAG curriculum as a career-ready program.

The results will speak for themselves just as they have across the nation.