Kentucky: Strategy Promotes Entrepreneurship

Faith Weekly

The Kentucky Workforce Investment Board, charged with creating a statewide workforce training and development plan, is undergoing a total reorganization and will have a new strategic plan by late spring.

Joseph Meyer, acting secretary of Kentucky’s Education and Workforce Development Cabinet, outlined the priorities: first, align the state’s workforce system and education standards; second, align workforce programs with the state’s economic development goals; third, improve and simplify the system; and, fourth, improve overall customer service.

In Kentucky, workforce development activities are spread throughout many government agencies, and a variety of programs lie outside the direct control of the Workforce Development Cabinet.

Unemployment has climbed steadily during the recent financial crisis. Based on figures from last October, sectors that have been most affected in Kentucky are construction, manufacturing and service. Construction lost the highest number of jobs: a decrease of 21 percent or 17,600 jobs. The manufacturing industry lost 32,900 jobs, a 14 percent decrease.

Many of the manufacturing job losses were seen in Kentucky’s large automotive industry. The state is home to Toyota and Ford plants and a GM plant that produces the Corvette. Forty-one of Kentucky’s counties are listed as “trade impacted” by automotive industry restructuring, meaning there was a loss of jobs resulting from international trade impacts. Twenty-four of Kentucky’s counties are considered significantly trade impacted. The state has received assistance through the Community Trade Adjustment Assistance Program, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The program is intended to help create and retain jobs by providing project grants to communities that have experienced or are threatened by job loss resulting from international trade impacts.

The only sectors that experienced job growth in Kentucky were education and health care.

The reorganization of the Workforce Investment Board will yield a long-term impact, Meyer said. The aim is to prepare Kentucky’s citizens for sustainable jobs in the future. The reorganization will create a much more business-driven system. Meyer foresees the establishment of a “how to run your own business” program through Kentucky’s One Stop Centers. The programs will start in the summer.

“There are some service businesses that people can get into if they have support and guidance, so we want to place a very strong statewide effort on entrepreneurship—large and small. We don’t foresee a significant reduction in unemployment in the state or growth in employment opportunities. It’s going to be a slow recovery, so we think these sorts of services will be very valuable,” Meyer said.

The Fort Knox Base Realignment and Closure reorganization will consolidate the Army Human Resource Command with approximately 3,100 mostly civilian personnel at Fort Knox, Ky. It’s expected that between $800 million and $900 million worth of construction will take place at Fort Knox for the BRAC reorganization and for base modernization projects. The BRAC reorganization at Fort Knox will be completed by September 2011. The addition of the Human Resource Command at Fort Knox will add several thousand white-collar jobs. The local market does not have a sufficient pool of qualified workers to fill those jobs, so it is anticipated that an influx of out-of-state workers will follow their jobs from other states, Meyer said. In response to this, a consortia of colleges and trainers in Radcliff, Ky., will help train Kentuckians with the skills needed to qualify primarily for white-collar jobs. Having people at the appropriate skill level is an ongoing concern for state officials who see the potential for defense industry contractors locating in Kentucky.

Clean and renewable energy is an industry that has recently come to Kentucky. “Energy is a huge part of the Kentucky economy in the eastern part of the state as well as the western part of the state,” Meyer said.

The state has plans to develop a new training program for “green” jobs as part of its economic development and workforce development strategy, although they are still in the early stages. The Kentucky Community & Technical College System is developing a curriculum for “green” jobs. Kentucky currently is retraining plumbers and pipe fitters in “green” and energy efficiency standards. Workers are being provided with chemical engineering training and certifications for a new solar cell plant in Tennessee. Another training program is being started for smart grid technology, and Kentucky’s Finance Cabinet has created a clean energy corps to provide training for energy auditors for a statewide weatherization program.

Meyer said Kentucky is challenged because it is a state with numerous regional economies as opposed to statewide economies. The state has a total of seven regions that are multistate economies. Only a few of the economies are totally confined to the state.

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