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Improving the Nation's Workforce

Dr. Keith Bird, a veteran educator, had a well-planned career pathway laid out for him as a young man. He was going to be a minister or a veterinarian.

You see what happened, Dr. Bird told more than 300 people who attended the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerces Power in Partnership Breakfast at the Julian Carroll Convention Center on Wednesday, March 1, in Paducah.

The lack of really good career navigation in this country is critical. I think its coming, and its going to be a public-private partnership, Dr. Bird said. We simply must provide more information about what career choices are and what career choices mean.

Dr. Bird, senior policy fellow for Workforce and Postsecondary Education, is with the Ann Arbor, Michigan based Corporation for a Skilled Workforce. He previously worked for 10 years as the first chancellor of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and served as president of community colleges in South Carolina and New Hampshire. The KCTCS Board of Regents honored him in June 2009 as KCTCS chancellor-emeritus.

Dr. Bird also worked on a committee with the Aspen Institute that recently named West Kentucky Community and Technical College, sponsor of the breakfast, as one of the top 5 community colleges in the nation.

What impressed Aspen was how were (Kentucky is) trying to reinforce the connection between the workplace and education, not only reinforce it, but also strengthen it, he said.

Dr. Bird said more than 50 percent of employers believe that post-secondary education should prepare individuals for success in the workplace while only 28 percent of education leaders say their institutions have a primary or at least secondary role for preparing people for the workforce.

To improve the nations workforce, the current disconnect between the education being taught in post-secondary institutions and what employers need has to be reduced, Bird said. Occupations and (educational) majors matter. The return on investment to students in terms of what they major in and what their occupation really is, is extremely important, he said.

Dr. Bird said businesses becoming more involved with what is being taught in postsecondary institutions will play a vital role in the nations future.

How do we know that we are teaching the competencies to standards set by employers. This is really where business engagement, what others call partnerships, will be more important in the future, he said. We all know of great partnerships with business and industries that are doing great work, but the fact is that we need to really deepen employee engagement. We need to address this disconnect somehow between business and industry and education. That is why I am so excited about the Work Ready Communities.

Governor Steve Beshear announced February 17 that Daviess, Warren and Woodford counties were certified as Kentuckys first-ever Work Ready Communities and Russell County has achieved Work Ready Community in Progress status.

The new certification program from the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board (KWIB) and the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet assures employers that a local workforce has the talent and skills necessary to staff existing jobs and to master the innovative technologies new jobs will require.

Kentucky is the third state to begin certifying counties as Work Ready Communities based on the quality of their labor force. To become certified,communities must gather local support and commitment and apply for the WorkReady Community designation. Counties have to meet criteria in six areas including high school graduation rate, National Career Readiness Certificate holders, demonstrated community commitment, educational attainment, soft-skills development and digital literacy.

Local community and education leaders are considering applying for the designation in Paducah.

More information about the Kentucky Work Ready Communities can be found at