Kentucky kicked off 2017 with a laser focus on improving the state’s economy. Critical legislation aimed at revving up our economy and creating jobs was passed and signed into law. Those efforts, backed by the business community for years, have led to headline after headline about the record number of investments being made in Kentucky.
Those new investments total more than $8 billion and highlight that our state has taken strong steps forward in making itself competitive. While this progress should be celebrated, it should also unite us in asking “What can we do now to keep moving in the right direction?”
The answer to that question will vary depending on who you ask. However, for the business community, the answer lies in tackling one of the greatest challenges confronting employers – the lack of essential skills, or “soft skills” as they are sometimes called. These basic skills include things like showing up to work on time, passing a drug test, dressing properly for work, working well in a team, and even knowing how to give a proper handshake. Alarmingly, these are things many Kentucky businesses have a hard time finding in individuals looking to enter or remain in the workforce.
This issue has been emerging for several years, and there is no quick fix. Looking at different communities and schools across Kentucky, we see that it can be done. Various schools have found ways to develop programming, some at absolutely no cost, to help instill these essential skills into all students. These schools, their administrators and teachers must receive credit for this very important work. The state’s recently proposed accountability model takes steps in the right direction to highlight the importance of essential skills, but we must ensure that instruction and meaningful programming are a priority.
Essential skills legislation being discussed by the General Assembly would acknowledge that these skills are needed for students to be successful and would empower schools to dedicate the time and energy necessary to ensure students develop these traits. Defining essential skills, prioritizing them, and providing the framework to give schools the flexibility to incorporate these key skills into our K-12 system will not just make students transition ready, but will allow Kentucky to position itself with a stronger and more prepared workforce.
It is a tough pill to swallow that the lack of these attributes is a problem that must be addressed. In the past, many parents wouldn’t let their kids leave the house if they didn’t know and exercise many of these skills. As job creators throughout our state will tell you, though, the lack of essential skills is the reality we live in today.
The legislature’s focus on this topic at October’s Education Committee meeting, and the committee revisiting the issue this month, are positive signs that the General Assembly will take action to help ensure all Kentucky students are essential skills ready. ■