By Dave Adkisson and Aaron Thompson
Kentucky must aggressively up its game if we’re going to compete for talent and quality jobs in today’s international economy.
Top-flight education and the workforce it produces are key factors in the success of the state and its citizens, but we are struggling to educate and train enough people to be productive and responsible citizens and employees.
The struggle extends to our efforts to retain and attract talent to create the jobs of the future that will fuel prosperity and encourage entrepreneurs, emerging leaders and business owners to live and work here.
If all of us – the business community, educators, elected officials, families, public policymakers and advocates – can join forces immediately to make significant changes, Kentucky will benefit from economic competitiveness and growth in ways we have never experienced before.
We must change our thinking, our focus and our work. It isn’t enough to strive for average; we must set an ambitious goal of moving Kentucky into the top tier of states – achieving the top 10 on key indicators that reflect education and workforce quality. We must be first in the nation in improving the alignment of our talent development systems with employment opportunities.
The challenges of doing this cannot be overstated, but Kentucky is up to the task. Commitment and hard work fueled our progress during the past generation from the bottom of national education rankings to the middle of the pack – and occasionally higher on some. But that progress has slowed, and in some cases our gains have been reversed. The need for a renewed commitment is urgent.
That renewed commitment is the foundation of an effort that we believe offers great promise for accelerating the state’s movement in the right direction. Public- and private-sector leaders have come together as the Kentucky Business-Education Roundtable to craft an ambitious agenda for creating opportunity for Kentucky’s citizens and strengthening the pipeline between education and employment.
That agenda was highlighted in the Roundtable’s recently released report, “Striving to be Top Tier for Talent: Average Isn’t Good Enough,” that delivered a strong message about the need for action around four key goals:
• Investing in early childhood and preschool – to give kids a solid start.
• Reinventing high school – to make a diploma relevant for the modern economy.
• Ensuring every adult obtains a marketable degree or credential.
• Engaging employers to define needed skills and develop talent supply chains.
While we must act now, we also must recognize that this work will need a sustained effort over the next decade, and maybe longer. We also must recognize that this is a shared responsibility among educators, employers, elected officials, advocates, families and policymakers in every part of the commonwealth. We all have a significant stake in this work and must be accountable for its results.
The call to action is twofold: For employers to step up and clearly engage in defining their employment needs and ways to meet them and for schools, colleges, universities and other training organizations to strengthen their efforts to produce the talent we must have in the commonwealth.
The Roundtable will continue its work in the coming months to engage other stakeholders in defining specific needs and considerations, to set priorities for policy and program changes, and to determine what resources will be needed to support the work.
The need could not be more urgent. If we do not act, we are condemning our state and our children to a future where struggles will be more common than success and where opportunities will be outnumbered by obstacles. That future cannot be acceptable to anyone who loves Kentucky. ■
Dave Adkisson is president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Dr. Aaron Thompson is president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education.