Months ago, the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board set out to develop a thoughtful strategic plan that not only assures our regional workforce development system is responsive to the needs of job seekers and employers but also addressed the system’s change in focus as laid out by the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
With assistance from Massachusetts-based Strategy Matters, which spent time in our region and brought a strong background in workforce strategy, the LTWDB recently completed a plan that will guide efforts in our eight-county region for the next five years.
While our region’s centralized location, high quality of life, positive business climate and more position us for growth, we know our region’s economic prosperity also hinges on talent. Businesses cannot succeed and grow without skilled employees, and communities cannot attract new businesses without a quality workforce.
And that’s why the centerpiece of the LTWDB’s recently adopted strategic plan is addressing our region’s workforce supply crisis. New business relocations and expansions, as well as increasing retirements, are driving up demand for talent. At the same time, a high number of people are not active in our workforce, driving down supply.
This supply crisis presents a real opportunity for our region: increasing workforce participation.
In the eight counties of the Lincoln Trail region – Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington – workforce participation ranges from approximately 55 to 65 percent according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That means 35 to 45 percent of the working age adults in these counties are neither employed nor looking for work. While some of those people are retired, in school or unable to work due to disability, there’s certainly room for improvement, and our target is to steadily increase workforce participation throughout our region over the next five years.
If we are going to mitigate the region’s workforce supply crisis, we must tap into the working age population that is in our region but not working. While workforce development strategies that focus on K-12 education and traditional recruiting are valuable, it’s not enough. As we can see in workforce development areas across the country, these common efforts do not resolve workforce shortages.
The work ahead is not simple. People are not working for a multitude of reasons.
Some are incarcerated, others are students and some have opted out of the workforce for personal reasons such as their health. Others are not working because, at least in the short term, public assistance provides a more secure lifestyle than work. Some want to work but barriers like a lack of childcare or transportation prevent them from holding a job. Still, others are not working because their skills are not aligned with open jobs.
Informed by interviews, surveys, focus groups and trend analysis, the strategic plan details some immediate action, such as intensifying the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail’s work with clients who have opted out of the workforce. Still, we know there is much more to do.
“The Lincoln Trail area is poised to leverage some amazing opportunities – the economic development forecast is so bright. The challenge ahead lies in mobilizing the region’s employers – large and small – to work in close partnership with the public sector in creating pathways for the latent workforce to successfully enter and stay in the workforce,” Liz O’Conner of Strategy Matters said.
“If area businesses are willing and able to make a short term investment in the workforce, the long term economic gains will be real for them and for the region’s workers,” O’Conner added.
This is a crisis that requires immediate attention from employers, educators and any community organization that aims to increase employment, self-sustaining families and/or our quality of life. In the coming weeks, we will begin the work to implement this plan. I invite each of you to play a role in this process. For more information, please email Sherry Johnson, Associate Director at Lincoln Trail Area Development District, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Boone is director of the Kentucky Innovation Network in Elizabethtown and a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, which serves Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson and Washington counties. She can be reached at 270-307-4214 or email@example.com.