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Boyle’s workforce development efforts began decades ago

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of three columns from local workforce development volunteers exploring past, present and future workforce development efforts in Danville and Boyle County. Watch for the next column on the Feb. 14 opinion page.

By STEVE RINEHART

Guest columnist

Whether it is during an election season (when candidates tout the number of jobs created or make promises about jobs that will be created), or nearly any other time when economic growth or workforce development is discussed, the conversation seems to always center around the need for jobs, attracting jobs, and retaining jobs. Those discussions rarely acknowledge the fact that nationwide, there are hundreds of thousands of jobs that are unfilled because employers cannot find applicants with the necessary skills. That same situation exists today in Danville and Boyle County as well.

Any meaningful discussion of jobs must also include a discussion of workforce development, since the one is dependent upon the other. There are many definitions of workforce development, but for the purpose of this and subsequent articles, we will use the following straightforward, basic definition:

“Workforce development is education, employment and job training efforts designed to help employers get a skilled workforce, as well as to help individuals to succeed in the workplace.” — National Governors’ Conference, 1999

In recent months, local attention and concern has focused on the deletion of funds earmarked for “workforce development” from the budget of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership, Inc. (EDP). This partnership is an alliance of the Boyle County Industrial Foundation, Danville-Boyle County Chamber of Commerce, Danville-Boyle County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Heart of Danville Main Street Program, Main Street Perryville, and the local governments of Boyle County, Danville, Junction City and Perryville. These groups work together to foster economic development in Boyle County.

Some have assumed and asserted that since there is no budget line item, there are apparently no efforts planned or underway in workforce development. That is simply not the case. Education, employment and job training efforts have been ongoing in Danville/Boyle County for decades — and are continuing, through the work of the EDP and other organizations.

One of the first concerted efforts to address workforce development in Danville-Boyle County began in the late 1990s, when the Boyle County Industrial Foundation, under the leadership of the late John Camenisch, began the process to establish a technical college campus in Danville. Land for the facility was donated by the Industrial Foundation. Government officials and local business representatives worked with state Rep. Joe Clark to secure funding from the Kentucky legislature. Additionally, several local manufacturing companies contributed funds to furnish and equip classrooms and lab spaces.

The facility, known today as the Danville campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College, opened in 2002, offering certificate and associate degree programs in several in-demand technical areas. Since then, the enrollment and the curriculum of the campus have grown significantly.

Currently, the technical training programs at the BCTC campus in Danville cannot produce graduates fast enough to meet the local and regional demand for individuals with electrical, industrial maintenance, machine tool and welding skills. As a result, BCTC is preparing for the addition of a new building on the Danville campus, an Advanced Manufacturing Center, that will enable the doubling of enrollment in these in-demand career areas, as well as expansion of health-care-related programs and general education course offerings.

In 2006, the Board of Directors of the Danville/Boyle County Chamber of Commerce made “workforce development” one of the focus areas for chamber action. A Workforce Development Committee was created to facilitate the chamber’s activities in that area.

One of the first initiatives of the committee was to host a regional focus group of employers to hear and comment on the results of an employer survey that had been conducted by the Bluegrass Area Development District (BGADD) in 17 central Kentucky counties, including Boyle. The survey had collected responses from hundreds of employers within BGADD in response to two primary questions:

• “What deficiencies do you see in applicants for employment?” and

• “What deficiencies do you see in current employees that could affect your company’s future?”

The employers participating in the Danville focus group concurred with the survey’s findings. Deficiencies of current employees included verbal communications, team leadership/supervisory skills, critical thinking skills, advanced computer skills and teamwork. Deficiencies among job applicants included undesirable attitude/conduct, undependable, unacceptable drug test, lack of pertinent experience and criminal records.

During the discussion of the survey results, one of the possible causal factors that surfaced was “a disconnect between what students learn in school and the skills that are required for success in the workplace.” The chamber’s Workforce Development Committee made addressing that causal factor one of its primary objectives and created several initiatives.

Part two of this series will focus on the workforce development initiatives of the Danville-Boyle County Chamber that spanned more than 12 years, from 2006 until 2018.

Steve Rinehart is a retired human resources professional. He served as chair of the Boyle County Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Development Committee from 2006 to 2017.