The good news is there are plenty of jobs available for people who are willing to work. The bad news is that employers in Kentucky are experiencing a lack of people who can fill the open positions.

The Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center published a slew of statistics that explain the state’s current workforce position. Their research shows that more than 81 percent of Kentucky businesses are planning to expand in the next three to five years and that 80 percent of those businesses say they can’t fill those positions. Kentucky also has a low workforce participation rate, meaning the available people who are both eligible to and do work, is lower than average.

The chamber claims the high incarceration rate, high rate of opioid deaths and high disability rates are the top reasons why the participation rate is low. All this makes sense. If you are in jail, it’s hard to work. If you overdosed, well, that makes it exceptionally hard to hold down a job. As far as one of the highest disability rates in the country, blame Eric Conn. Truly disabled people need to have the support that is provided. But we all know that not every person on disability is truly disabled.

There is also the shrinking population. The baby boomers are retiring or dying off and our country did not have an adequate population growth spurt since that era, leaving less people to fill positions.

Kentucky, along with three other states, is embarking on a project that will address the workforce issues. The chamber is rolling out its Talent Pipeline Management program that will identify the personnel demands and support a supply chain to meet those demands.

This initiative will show prospective employers that Kentucky is proactive in preparing the workforce to meet the demands. The plan is to work with industries across the state and find where the biggest needs are and then work with educational institutions to develop a workforce to develop the talent needed.

According to the study there are many industries where employees are needed. Health care, manufacturing, engineering and trade positions are in high demand.

Recently, we saw Big Sandy Community and Technical College graduate people who were trained and are getting positions at SilverLiner in Pikeville. We saw Pikeville Medical Center partner with the University of Pikeville. And UPike has also made collaborative efforts with EnerBlü and AppHarvest.

In Perry County, the jail is teaching inmates proper financial tactics so when they get released, they can better manage money if and when they get jobs. Training in the jails throughout the region will help people get jobs when they are released and could cut down on the recidivism rates. Good paying jobs where people feel useful and have hope may help stem the abuse of opioids and keep people out of jail. As for the career criminals, I’ll save that for another day.

Jobs are coming, and the economic rebound will be here soon and with a vengeance. We need to be prepared to accept the challenges ahead and fill these positions that have sustainability. This region has been knocked down, but we are not out.

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