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Op-Ed: How to Capitalize on Kentucky’s Economic Momentum

The following op-ed is written by Nathaniel Sizemore, Esq., a resident of Fort Thomas, and division president of the Premier Resources Group.

In his first term, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has been extremely successful in attracting economic investment to the Commonwealth, including Amazon’s billion-dollar Air-Hub project in Northern Kentucky. In that vein, Governor Bevin also made it clear that one of his goals is to bolster workforce development in Kentucky and he has consistently highlighted the benefits, financial and otherwise, of individuals pursuing careers in the skilled trades. 

While workforce development in Kentucky has seen significant improvement in the last three years, there are additional solutions to consider which may enhance the current positive economic momentum. Specifically, we should analyze educational funding models to ensure that they generate the workforce results we, as a Commonwealth, desire.  

For example, as a businessman in the construction industry, I’ve observed fewer young people pursuing careers in the skilled trades compared to the number of folks pursuing traditional four-year college degrees. This is concerning because the skilled trades are vital to continued economic growth. 

Research on this issue highlights a staggering statistic that was addressed in Senator Wil Schroder’s debate with Democratic opponent, Rachel Roberts. For every ten (10) new jobs produced in this country, one (1) will require an advanced degree, two (2) will require a college degree, and seven (7) will require a technical degree, apprenticeship, or craft training certificate. This is known as the 1:2:7 formula. 

So, why is there such a dearth of available craft labor if the current and future demand is so high? This could be due, in part, to state funding models which, intentionally or unintentionally, incentivize students to pursue matriculation to traditional four-year colleges and universities. As such, to ensure Kentucky has the skilled workforce its growing economy requires, we should question whether Kentucky’s public high school funding model is promoting the activity, and result, the job market demands. 

Many states are attempting to tackle this challenge; Louisiana, for example, has gained positive attention in the construction industry with their “Jump Start Program.” The Jump Start Program requires students to attain industry-valued credentials to graduate high school, and funding is tied to teacher development and career and technical education (CTE) facility investment, among other things. I understand that Kentucky has instituted a successful “Work Ready Community Program,” but how does that program address public high school funding related to CTE? Perhaps there’s an opportunity to bolster that connection and supercharge the results.          

To be clear, Kentucky is not starting from scratch in its workforce development solution-finding process. The Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board (KWIB), the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet (KEWDC), and our own Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce are already aggressively addressing workforce challenges in our region. I had the privilege to meet with NKY Chamber representatives to discuss workforce development programs currently underway, including programs tailored to high school students. They are definitely on the right track and I applaud their devotion to this issue.    

As such, to capitalize on the efforts currently underway, there are additional meaningful and measurable steps that can be taken to ensure Kentucky’s workforce continues to grow synergistically with Kentucky’s economic development. First, we should evaluate Kentucky’s current public high school funding model to make sure that it incentivizes activity aligned with our current, and future, job market demands. Second, we should continue to aggressively benchmark with other states which have implemented successful workforce development programs, like Louisiana, and evaluate whether or not such programs could be implemented, in whole or in part, in the Commonwealth. After all, those states are Kentucky’s competition for business investment in the future. Third, I encourage residents to get involved in local organizations, like the NKY Chamber of Commerce, and support their current workforce development programs and initiatives. 

In closing, workforce development challenges in the Commonwealth affect us all, and the issue is truly non-partisan. Consequently, we can, and should, capitalize on Kentucky’s economic growth by ensuring that our workforce development system is continually improving and consistently generating the skilled workforce the job market is demanding.