Drug abuse a problem for Kentucky workforce, lawmakers told

Staff Report

FRANKFORT — A 2014 federal workforce law with a local focus is helping Kentucky employers find solutions to one of their greatest hiring obstacles—drug abuse.

Many workers have necessary skills but “can’t pass the drug test,” state Department of Workforce Investment Commissioner Beth Kuhn told the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government yesterday. She met with around 10 employers two weeks ago at the Governor’s Mansion, many of whom she said are considering altering their drug testing policies just to get long-term, skilled unemployed talent in the door.

“They’re considering whether they might move drug testing into random testing, once you’re employed,” said Kuhn. “It’s become too much of an impediment to hiring.”

Clarifying that partnership and collaboration is “the key” under current workforce law, Kuhn said her agency plans to collaborate with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and use its expertise on substance abuse to help address workers’ and employers’ needs.

“How do we match those (substance abuse) programs up with our expertise that we have in employment, and make sure that we are intervening as early as we can and supporting that worker,” said Kuhn. “We’re trying to put the resources in place.”

Rep. Mike Denham, D-Maysville, said he was relieved to hear about agency collaboration. Companies in his area have told him, he said, that drug abuse is a huge barrier to hiring.

“Companies are telling me they are getting all the aid and assistance they need, but their biggest concerns in the drug culture,” Denham said.

Local boards that will impact these changes are currently being set up across the Commonwealth under the new federal law, known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Kuhn said. She said local elected officials are in the process of naming members of the local boards, with all boards required to be certified by this October.

One of many counties working to get its local board organized under the WIOA filed is Garrard County, represented by Rep. Jonathan Shell, R-Lancaster. And, like Denham’s counties, Shell said drug abuse is impacting hiring there. A recent job fair in Garrard County recruiting skilled labor for jobs paying $16 to $27 an hour only drew a couple people, he said.

“It really is becoming an epidemic,” said Shell.

And it is a multi-faceted issue, one that requires workforce intervention and more, Kuhn explained.

The issue “crosses workforce, it crosses human services, it crosses education, it crosses all kinds of things,” she said. “How do we focus in on making sure we minimize that reality for our individual Kentuckians?”

Staff Report

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