Key strategies to attract and retain employees during talent shortage discussed at 2023 Workforce Summit

As Kentucky businesses strive to keep pace with the economic development announcements and fill the job opportunities across the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Chamber hosted its 8th Annual Workforce Summit in February.

The State of Kentucky’s Workforce

On the state of the workforce today, Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link said that it has really been an unprecedented time, pointing to the ways Kentucky is leading the way with numerous economic development announcements made across the Commonwealth.

“Why can’t Kentucky be a leader in workforce development?” Link asked. “We all touch the workforce in one way or another. We all have a mission to employ our people. It’s incumbent on us to give people the tools they need to achieve gainful employment.”

On engaging those who are not currently working, Link pointed to the need to address the critical issue of child care across Kentucky that is affecting workforce participation. “We’re freeing up qualified workers to get back into the workforce. It’s not just about the cost of childcare, it’s about availability too.”

He pointed to key partners like the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, Kentucky Career Center, and other key leaders working on workforce issues, and said those partnerships are going to help our state answer important questions like how to build the pipeline starting with young people.

“When you think about having two open jobs for every individual in Kentucky, that is nothing but opportunity,” said Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Deputy Secretary Beth Brinly.

Workforce Expansion: Demonstrating Corporate Leadership

A panel of key Chamber business leaders discussed the state’s workforce challenges, the needs of businesses in the private sector, and how they are continuously improving their approach to talent attraction and development.

Steve Rudolf of Baptist Health talked about the need to alter policies that companies have implemented that hinder workforce growth, especially in the healthcare sector. “We’re doing it to ourselves to a degree. I see this as an opportunity to change.”

After the pandemic caused many companies to shift to remote work, employers are now looking at how to offer flexibility while bringing their employees back to work in person. Panelists spoke on how each of their companies has navigated this trend based on the nature of their individual sectors.

“We are very intentional about creating a collaborative environment where people want to come back,” Rudolf.

Panelists all spoke on the need to engage students early in order to fill talent pipelines for future workforce needs. “We still see a lot of students that come out of high school that does not know what they want to do,” said Amy Luttrell of Goodwill Industries of Kentucky, noting the more exposure we can give young people to the occupations available to them the better, it shows them a good place to start.

Kim Halbauer of Fifth Third Bank said that 80,000 degrees were issued in Kentucky last year. “We have talent, but we have to figure out how to get the talent to stay in Kentucky and we have to reduce barriers for individuals,” she said.

In order for Kentucky to compete for talent, panelists said the Commonwealth needs to do a better job of telling Kentucky’s story and focus on its strengths.

“We need a rebrand,” said Condrad Daniels of HJI Supply Chain Solutions. “This state has the opportunity to leapfrog others. And we have to do that to remain relevant. We have an opportunity to be a more inclusive state so that we are more attractive to this changing demographic.”

Best Practices and Data for Recruitment and Retention

Untapped Talent: How Second Chance Hiring Works for Your Business and the Community

Workforce Summit keynote speaker Jeffrey Korzenik, chief economist of Fifth-Third Bank, said workforce growth is directly connected to economic growth.

“We are experiencing a labor gap of five million workers. We have never seen anything like this before. That requires us in the business community to do things differently.”

In order for businesses to overcome this issue, he said, employers should eliminate unnecessary barriers, increase flexibility for working parents, create pathways for older workers, avoid worker burnout, and establish non-traditional talent pipelines.

Korzenik detailed statistics of untapped talent pools and encouraged businesses to take additional steps and do their homework when they are looking to hire individuals in need of a fair chance. He said it is important to know what are low-risk hires, understand the felonies of individuals seeking employment, connect with second-chance pioneers, connect with non-profit partners, review and eliminate vendor restrictions, and offer amnesty.

When referring to the second chance pioneers available to businesses, he named the Kentucky Chamber as one of the best resources available in the Commonwealth, pointing to the organization’s smart justice and fair chance work and the Foundation’s Fair Chance Academy.

Workforce Management Today vs. 50 Years Ago

A presentation by Reward Systems CEO Robert Green focused on ways businesses must change their practices to meet today’s needs while keeping principles of sound workforce management.

Workforce planning is critical, said Greene, detailing strategies that can help businesses ensure the company’s human capital will be sustainable for the future, which includes getting rid of unnecessary work, realigning priorities based on necessity, automating processes, and outsourcing functions and processes.

The number one factor of employee satisfaction is knowing what is expected and how that person is doing, Greene said sharing successful strategies for employee performance management.

Retention Strategies for a Rapidly Changing Workforce

Danny Nelms, CEO of The Work Institute, began his presentation by encouraging the business community to think differently about the “great resignation.” He asked business leaders to think about those they are attracting new employees to work for them, but also, how are they also reattracting employees to continue to work for their company.

He shared that in 2022, there were 20% more voluntary quits than the previous record set in 2019. In Kentucky, that percentage is up by 40% since 2019. That means 50 million individuals left their jobs voluntarily—almost a third of the nation’s workforce.

As Nelms said pay cannot be the sole solution to retention problems, he shared other areas employers should focus on, which include employee development and progression, work-life integration and flexibility, a supportive, fair and communicative culture, and more.

Furthermore, Nelms stressed that businesses take the cost of turnover seriously because that amount adds up when considering the cost of training, hiring, recruiting, vacancy, and prior to departure for each employee.

Sales Approach to Recruiting

Jeff Graf of ARGI spoke on strategic actions to find and retain employees. In this current workforce shortage, it takes a sales mentality to be able to find the talent needed to fill the positions in organizations, he said.

He provided a list of recommendations for employers to attract and retain talent: reevaluating compensation offerings, differentiating benefit offerings, enhancing workplace flexibility, focusing on employer branding, asking where talent is sourced, fixing the “leaky bucket,” and appealing to the next generation of talent.

Succession Planning in Organizations: Don’t Let Knowledge Walk Out the Door

Shelly Trent of Your Career Coach Collaborator spoke on the critical need for succession planning to ensure companies have consistent institutional knowledge, talent retention, talent pipelines, and a reputation as an employer of choice. She pointed to statistics showing that having a succession plan positively impacts employees’ engagement levels.

As companies develop a succession plan, it is critical to look at the current workforce landscape, Trent said. The workforce and education shortage will continue over the next decade as the nation is 800,000 workers short of employees who have an associate’s degree or some college experience and 8.5 million workers short of employees that have a Bachelor’s degree or higher. 

Steps in succession planning include determining a program timeline, identifying key leaders and leadership criteria, creating competency lists based on job descriptions and soft skills, identifying top talent to determine who fits, determining gaps for each person or role, and creating a unique development plan for each potential leader based on competencies and gaps.

The Assessment Advantage: Five Vital Business Outcomes Positively Impacted by Hiring Assessments

At the start of her presentation, Whitney Martin of Proactive Consultants asked attendees, “does your hiring process consistently and reliably help you select the best people?”

Martin focused the conversation on what it means to hire better, suggesting key areas of job descriptions employers can alter to open up their applicant pools including job requirements, education and experience, skills and knowledge, and personality and learning ability. She also spoke on the value of employers utilizing hiring assessments to reduce bias, improve efficiency, improve predictive power, create a guide for recruiters, and improve candidate experiences. Martin continuously encouraged employers to look at data to decide what is working and what is not working. 

Today, employers need to focus on hiring people that have the ability to learn, she said. This is because 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025. The half-life of learned skills is currently five years which she said should reframe the way employers look at the knowledge and skills of applicants. 

Cognitive ability is one of the strongest indicators of job performance, Martin said, pointing to the top 10 skills of 2023, which include active learning, analytical thinking, complex problem-solving, technology use, resilience, and reasoning.

Promote Employee Recruitment and Retention with Inclusive Job Descriptions

Especially as Kentucky experiences a workforce shortage, job descriptions are an integral part of the hiring process. Kimberly Wickert of RETAIN Kentucky and Laurie Mays of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation hosted a discussion on how companies can improve and update job descriptions in order to recruit and retain valuable talent in the current climate.

Wickert spoke on a multitude of areas of job descriptions that can be altered to be more inclusive, touching on ways to improve language surrounding gender, education, race, culture, disabilities, mental health, cognitive health, and more.

Additionally, the panelists discussed ways for businesses to present their organization in a way that is realistic while also being candid and unique.

Create Long-term Solutions to Burnout

Kyla Cofer of Cofer Coaching and Consulting led a discussion on how individuals can manage burnout and stress by focusing on their own health and well-being.

Practices like physical activity, nutrition, good hygiene, and rest are simple, but they are key actions that can help create long-term solutions. Also, she stressed the importance of internal and external connection and healing as key components of well-being.

Resources for Employers

Using Data to Anticipate Workforce Trends in Kentucky

“Important decisions about how to organize workforce systems happen every day in Frankfort. When that happens, we’re in the room,” said Sam Keathley when talking about KYSTATS as a unique resource that employers and state leaders can use to access trends and demographics within the Commonwealth’s workforce ecosystem.

Keathley pointed to various data sets that can assist employers on KYSTATS, which include unemployment rates and veteran rates by county, employment by education levels, industries with the highest anticipated job openings, and more. Furthermore, Keathley pointed to KYSTATS as a way for employers to understand the impact that significant events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the tornadoes in western Kentucky, will have on workforce needs.

Closing the Skills Gap

Naomi Sutton, Apprenticeship Workforce Consultant of Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet, cited a World Economic Forum report that anticipates 40% of the global workforce will need reskilling of up to six months by 2024.

Polly Marquette shared the tools available to employers through the Win Learning upskill software, including resources for employees to receive training in social media, digital literacy, visual communication, soft skills, and more.

Moving Your Business Forward Through Registered Apprenticeship, the Employer’s Perspective

A panel of workforce development and business leaders discussed the impact that registered apprenticeships are having on the Commonwealth and the return on investment that employers are seeing as registered apprenticeship sponsors.

Currently, there are 4,000 active registered apprentices at 280 unique employers spanning over 350 different occupations in Kentucky.

Don Adkins of David H. Elliott, a registered apprenticeship sponsor, said it is beneficial because they are able to get people into the company and train them from the beginning on what the company needs them to do. He said that registered apprenticeships have cut turnover in half because the apprentices know what they are getting year after year.

Employer-Provided Innovation Challenges (EPIC)

U.S. Chamber Foundation Center for Education and Workforce Vice President Jason Tyszko spoke to attendees about the purpose of Talent Pipeline Management, a major program of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s Workforce Center that promotes collaboration between employers to project job demand and create partnerships with education partners to fill talent needs.

Tyszko also shared a new U.S. Chamber Foundation initiative called EPIC, a program where business associations help engage businesses and education providers to provide high-quality work-based learning experiences to students.

Authentic project-based learning is extremely valuable to students, he said, and authentic means employer-led. He said this program is unique because work-based learning is typically done on an individual basis, and the EPIC model will help create that authentic experience in a way that is scalable in size and across multiple industries.


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