Report: Kentucky needs accountability in $900 million workforce development spending

Economic Indicators Associated Press

The government spends $900 million a year to train Kentucky workers, yet just 8 percent of employers say the state's workforce has "good skills" according to a new report from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

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A survey of the chamber's 60,000 members found 15 percent can't find people who can pass a drug test, 23 percent have trouble finding people with the right technical skills and 27 percent have problems finding people with "soft skills," such as showing up for work on time and communicating with others.

"You would think, 'Gee, somebody growing up they should have these kind of skills developed just in the course of daily living.' That unfortunately has not been the case," said Diana Taylor, the chamber's senior policy analyst. "That is a cultural and societal question that is beyond me."

Chamber officials say the report reflects the perspective of the state's employers and not intended to be a "comprehensive analysis" of the state's workforce development programs. Still, it calls for Kentucky's next governor to conduct an independent review of the state's workforce training system, saying "the governor should be personally involved with this review before finalizing the cabinet structure of his administration."

"We found a significant amount of confusion (and) frustration, and we found a maze of federal and state programs that are hard for a businessperson to navigate," said Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Other recommendations include drug testing applicants for workforce training programs; doing a better job of disclosing state and federal government spending on workforce training and the results of that training; and including so-called "soft skills" in college and career readiness requirements for schools.

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Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's term ends in December. He cannot seek re-election because of term limits. Republican nominee for governor Matt Bevin has already met with Adkisson about the report. Bevin's campaign manager Ben Hartman said "there is no question we need economic growth in Kentucky" but he did not say if Bevin would agree to review the state's workforce development programs.

Democratic nominee Jack Conway said he would review the state's workforce training system and said he plans to meet with Adkisson soon to discuss the report.

"A top-to-bottom review of Kentucky's job training programs is an important part of that to ensure workers have the skills they need for the jobs of the future," spokesman Daniel Kemp said.

Kentucky has 10 workforce development boards that manage state and federal spending in their area. The report notes these boards have been mired in controversy, causing employers to limit "their active participation." Most recently, state Auditor Adam Edelen found the Bluegrass Area Development district created conflicts of interests and did not report possible criminal violations to authorities.

Beshear, speaking to reporters after an event in Louisville, said the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act approved by Congress "totally revamps the workforce system in Kentucky and in every other state." The bill requires states to come up with a plan to streamline workforce programs like education and job training. State officials say they hope to submit Kentucky's plan by November.

"We've got to build on that partnership between the business community and the government efforts to train that workforce and make sure that we're training for the jobs of the future," Beshear said.

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Read the report: http://bit.ly/1g66aez