HAZARD – After spending months questioning jobseekers and employers across the Eastern Kentucky region, the results of the East Kentucky Works Survey—a study focused on cataloging the capabilities of the region’s workforce—were unveiled Wednesday, Sept. 7, during a public meeting at Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC).
The study was conducted by the Boyette Strategic Advisors group over the course of several months in 2016, and was spearhead by One East Kentucky, an organization established to recruit industry and investment to the eastern region of Kentucky. Thousands of adult workers and employers were surveyed in 27 Eastern Kentucky counties to establish how prepared the region’s workforce is to begin working in various industries and occupations.
“The East Kentucky Works survey is an important tool in planning for a future in Eastern Kentucky,” said Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc. (EKCEP), one of several partner agencies that provided funding and other assistance during the course of the study. “The more we know about our workforce, the better we can plan to diversify our economy and develop new training and employment opportunities for the region.”
Boyette’s Kay Stebbins presented the findings of the study. She said that even after losing thousands of coal jobs and 20 percent of the regional labor force in the last decade, the people of Eastern Kentucky still have a spirit of perseverance, hard work, tenacity, ingenuity, and dedication.
The coal industry workforce possesses an assortment of transferable skills important to other industries, including transportation equipment manufacturing, metal, plastics, and wood, Stebbins explained.
Many jobseekers in the workforce are interested in additional training, and are willing to commute upwards of 50 miles for “good jobs,” according to the study, which bodes well for employers seeking workers in the region since the mining employment rate is projected to decline by nearly 40 percent in the next five years.
The majority of employers surveyed in the region said they were satisfied (46 percent) and very satisfied (32 percent) when polled about their satisfaction with the region’s workforce as it applies to their business. The majority of employers surveyed also think the cost of the workforce is on track or lower than it should be for the quality of work they are receiving.
“We already know the quality of Eastern Kentucky’s workforce,” said Whitehead. “We see it every day. But to be able to quantify what we know and take that data to companies outside of the region is a valuable asset when attracting outside investment for Eastern Kentucky.
The Boyette group closed the presentation with a list of recommendations on how to better the region’s workforce based on the study’s findings. Developing an education coalition, more soft skills training, and a new apprenticeship program to allow jobseekers the ability to gain skills they might not otherwise be able to obtain were only a few of the suggestions given by the group.
Partners in the study include EKCEP, One East Kentucky, AEP Kentucky Power, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR), Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship & Technology (EKU CEDET), and the Ashland Alliance.