WASHINGTON — President of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Ashli Watts, testified before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions about programs designed to eliminate barriers to employment.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kentucky ranks 48th in the nation in the percentage of adult residents who are working or actively looking for a job. West Virginia and Mississippi are the only states with a lower workforce participation rate.
“We often say we have too many people without jobs and too many jobs without people,” Watts said. “How do we make these two things match?”
Watts told the Senate committee on Tuesday that barriers to employment have only heightened during the pandemic. She said second chance programs supported by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce are trying to help people overcome some major barriers to employment, such as a record of prior incarceration or substance abuse.
“It really is an all hands on deck approach and there’s not one simple solution. It’s going to be policy and employers and different civics groups to really make sure this working age population gets back into the workforce,” Watts said.
One of the programs she is referring to is the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program, which provides supportive services to those who have battled substance abuse to help them get and hold jobs. At least 22 Kentucky businesses are taking part in the program.
“We don’t see any greater risk to hiring an individual out of a second chance program than we do out of any other traditional recruiting,” said Patrick Bryan, Recruitment Manager at AppHarvest.
AppHarvest is a sustainable foods company “working to build a climate-resistant food system in Central Appalachia.”
Bryant says the program is a natural fit for his company because it gives participants a sustainable pathway to employment.
“One of the things that we have found to be very successful is that we know these individuals have struggled to find meaningful employment, so when they do find the opportunity they work very hard to keep that job,” Bryant said.
During her trip to Washington, Watts also met with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to discuss the workforce participation programs run through the Kentucky Chamber Foundation.
People looking for work or employers who want to learn more about the programs offered can visit the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce website.