April 10, 2023 9:00am
OP-ED: 2023 General Assembly prioritizes workforce solutions
This editorial originally appeared in Louisville Business First on April 10, 2023
Last month, Kentucky posted the lowest unemployment rate in recorded state history at 3.9%. This number means most Kentuckians who are seeking work are working, but over 30% of eligible workers are not actively looking for work and that is making it hard for businesses to fill critical positions.
According to Greater Louisville Inc.’s data generated by Emsi Burning Glass (now Lightcast), at the end of 2022 there were over 19,000 job postings in the Greater Louisville region. And while the region’s workforce participation is above the national average at 63.9%, that still leaves a significant portion of workers disengaged.
It’s tempting to chalk this up to the post-pandemic status quo, but the Kentucky General Assembly showed they are not content with this new normal by taking action on several of Greater Louisville Inc.’s top priorities related to workforce during the 2023 session.
The General Assembly quickly passed GLI’s top priority to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the state’s personal income tax at the beginning of the legislative session. House Bill 1 reduced the state’s personal income tax to 4.5% this year and will reduce it further to 4% in 2024.
This will help Greater Louisville better compete for talent who could previously move across state borders and see more money in their paycheck. Talent attraction is only one part of a multifaceted approach to supporting the longevity of our talent pipeline.
A 2022 report from the Kentucky Hospital Association showed that there were over 13,000 vacancies in Kentucky hospitals, which amounts to more than one in five nursing positions. This doesn’t include the 14% of the current nursing workforce that are nearing retirement age. The health care shortages are not limited to nursing positions, but also administrative, coding and support positions.
The General Assembly passed a top priority for the Greater Louisville business community in House Bill 200 sponsored by Rep. Ken Fleming, which establishes the Kentucky Healthcare Workforce Investment Fund.
The fund will create scholarships for students in the healthcare field and award grants to employers to invest in training and equipment. Many health care fields require specialized training beyond a high school diploma. Removing barriers to those programs, like cost and class size, is critical to adding more workers to the future pipeline.
Education also continues to face concerning shortages which could impact our future workforce for decades to come. In August of 2022, Louisville Public Media reported that JCPS saw the largest wave of teachers resignations in nearly a decade, with 437 teachers resigning during the 2021-22 school year.
Teachers are critical to growing a highly skilled workforce and it has never been more important for our state to proactively attract, retain and develop members of this profession. The General Assembly passed House Bill 319, sponsored by Rep. James Tipton, which will fund and promote recruitment of teachers. GLI advocated for this legislation because it will make it easier for teachers to obtain interim certificates, help launch a marketing plan to recruit teachers to Kentucky, and create a process to track trends in departures to mitigate causes.
Other workforce development bills passed by the General Assembly offer broad solutions to addressing barriers to work. Senate Bill 54, sponsored by Sen. Jared Carpenter, will expand the use of Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES) funds to include qualified proprietary programs, art and design schools and workforce training solutions program offered by the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
Two-year and four-year programs are not for everyone, especially when many trades are experiencing shortages of skilled workers. Expanding access to KEES scholarships will help more students get the training they need at reduced costs.
House Joint Resolution 39 directs the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to review public assistance programs and address the benefits cliff, which refers to when people lose public assistance benefits due to increased earnings. This often keeps workers from accepting promotions or salary increases out of fear they will lose access to subsidized public benefits.
There’s more work to do
Improving Greater Louisville’s workforce participation rate is only one piece of the puzzle of solving worker shortages in our region. GLI is working through our talent attraction initiative, Live in Lou, to bring more high-skilled talent to our region to meet the demands of the innovative jobs we are attracting through our economic development efforts. All of these things work together to help our region compete in the tight race for talent.
— Sarah Davasher-Wisdom is the president and CEO of Greater Louisville Inc.