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Business community: Essential skills education critical to meeting workforce needs

House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell
House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell

By Jacqueline Pitts, The Bottom Line

Members of the Interim Joint Committee on Education heard testimony Monday on the need to incorporate essential skills education into schools.

House Majority Leader Jonathan Shell, the sponsor of essential skills legislation, pointed to skills including the ability to be able to work on a team, show up to work on time, be able to pass a drug test and others that many employers struggle to find in an employee.

The goal of the bill, Shell said, is to ensure that when a student graduates from a Kentucky school they are able to go to an employer and show they have the essential skills needed for the workforce and live a drug-free lifestyle.

Kentucky Chamber President and CEO Dave Adkisson also testified at the committee meeting, held at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing facility in Georgetown, stating the essential skills legislation will be a top priority of the Kentucky Chamber in the 2018 session.

“In 2018, we need legislation that defines essential skills, prioritizes them, and provides the framework to give schools that are already tackling this issue credit while making it possible for every school to help their students acquire these skills,” Adkisson said.

As the state’s largest business advocate, Adkisson noted that the Chamber hears from businesses every day that the number one issue facing Kentucky employers is the lack of qualified employees to fill the jobs available.

Ankur Gopal, a Kentucky businessman who runs tech company Interapt which teaches individuals to code and build mobile apps and other technology needs, also testified alongside Adkisson about the need to build a skill set among Kentucky students so they are employable when they get out of school.

Gopal stated that companies like his can teach the technical skills but the essential skills gap has to be addressed in order for employers to be able to employ those individuals. Gopal noted that individuals get fired in a workplace for not having the essential skills needed for employment, making this a critical issue.

Incorporating essential skills into education is important to employers like Gopal as he said he has spoken to many others looking to hire who say those skills are a main piece of criteria for who they will employ.

The essential skills legislation seeks to incentivize school districts for coming up with creative ways to teach students these skills, as many districts are doing currently. Some of those districts also testified in front of the committee including representatives from Hardin, Washington, Fayette, Spencer, and Bullitt counties.

Programs in the different counties were started as employers in the regions were struggling to find individuals with the skills needed to be employed. The school districts and businesses in these counties have developed programs to ensure essential skills are taught in schools and the students are given recognition for their trainings and accomplishments.

After hearing the testimony from the day, House Education Chair Bam Carney told the committee the legislature cannot leave the 2018 session without passing an essential skills bill.