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Kentucky’s move to a sector-based workforce development approach took root just over a year ago. Already the wholesale change, centered on consensus-based decision-making around data, and aligning key strategic partners, is having a positive impact in the Commonwealth.
For leaders in Kentucky, cultivating a skilled and competitive workforce has become a top priority. Part of this involves taking steps to improve the Commonwealth’s educational attainment and ensure a steady supply of available talent to help current businesses grow and attract new firms.
Having good information and analysis from EMSI has helped us to make smarter decisions.” — Beth Brinly, commissioner, Department of Workforce Investment, Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet
In May 2010, Kentucky formalized its intentions with the “WORK Smart Kentucky” strategic plan. The chief goals were to simplify the workforce system, better align it with education and economic development efforts, and make it more customer-friendly.
Kentucky leadership determined that a key element in achieving these goals would be to develop and implement Sector Strategies at the state and regional level, in essence transforming how it provides workforce development services. “Sector Strategies itself is seen as an opportunity to align resources within Kentucky – education, economic development and workforce development resources – to prepare the workforce to meet the employer need in Kentucky and to grow the economy of the Commonwealth,” said Beth Brinly, commissioner of the Department of Workforce Investment in the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.
The Commonwealth worked with Maher & Maher and EMSI in a strategic consulting partnership to help a state/regional steering committee identify the most appropriate sectors for investment, and then develop the framework for implementing the sector strategy process throughout the workforce system. As with many other projects on which Maher and EMSI partner, EMSI’s concentrated on determining the choice of potential target sectors for the Commonwealth to consider, while Maher & Maher worked with leadership to develop a focused state policy and implementation process.
As part of its data-driven approach, EMSI looked at a set of wide-ranging variables – historical and projected job growth, industry concentration, export orientation, workforce compatibility, etc. – before selecting 10 potential sectors.
The goal from there, according to Brinly, was “to identify three to five critical sectors to the state as a whole, [and] to develop a sector ‘toolkit’ that is a resource to local and regional communities. We wanted to model at the state level a process that is data-driven decision-making around the sectors. So for us, EMSI was a critical partner in providing some broad-brush perspective of targeted industries.”
After EMSI provided analysis of potential sectors and Maher & Maher helped gather qualitative input from state and community leaders, Kentucky’s data team added regional and state context. Ultimately, the Commonwealth settled on five sectors:
- Automobile and Aircraft Manufacturing;
- Transportation, Distribution and Logistics;
- Business Services and Research & Development;
- Health Care/Social Assistance; and
- Energy Creation/Transmission.
EMSI also helped Kentucky leadership define 11 regions (i.e., functional economic areas) around the Commonwealth and identify customized sectors for each region. Teams in each area provided regional context to the data analysis.
Maher and Maher developed the Sector Strategy Toolkit, an online set of resources designed to assist the Commonwealth’s workforce regions in implementing sector strategies. Part of the Toolkit is a first-ever model of seven critical factors common to the most effective sector strategy systems (see graphic).
Additional resources developed as part of the project and available on the website include the World Class Sector Strategies Online Training Course; the Regional Self-Assessment of Implementation Progress; and the jointly developed Consensus-Based Decision Support Tool.
“There has been a lot of acceptance already,” Brinly said.
That much was clear in early June, when members of Gov. Steve Beshear’s cabinet, as well as other state and regional workforce/business leaders, convened in Louisville for a daylong Sector Strategies Institute facilitated by Maher and Maher. Maher & Maher and EMSI’s work was unveiled to stakeholders and media members, and regional teams reported on their progress throughout the Commonwealth.
With the buy-in from leaders at all levels, “we feel as though it’s a great first step down this road of transforming Kentucky’s workforce system around this concept of sector-based service delivery,” said Rick Maher, president of Maher & Maher.
Furthermore, Kentucky’s regional workforce boards have started to rethink how they operate, partially as a result of the sector-based approach and analysis. Brinly provided two examples: “One workforce investment area is creating sector panels that are going to be committees that are related to their local workforce investment board. Another workforce investment area has decided to have case managers by sector rather than individual and business service case managers.”
These outcomes were aided by EMSI’s meaningful analysis and guidance through the sector selection process, Brinly said. For example, by looking at workforce compatibility – a way to gauge how well a region or state’s workforce can fill the higher-skilled labor needs of an industry – as one component of the sector identification, EMSI gave Kentucky’s leadership the “ability to focus on high-wage jobs that were attainable within a reasonable time frame given the skill set of the workforce in Kentucky,” she said.
Another valuable addition from the consultants, Brinly said, was pinpointing the difference between exported-oriented sectors versus those that re-circulate resources in the local economy. “Four of the five sectors have economic generation capabilities. Recognizing that certain types of sectors have a multiplier effect when you bring them into your community was valuable in our discussion,” she noted. “Having good information and analysis from EMSI has helped us to make smarter decisions.”
One of the major next steps is to develop and sustain industry partnerships — made up of employers, employee associations, labor groups, and workforce representatives. The state is awarding $500,000 in grants to these partnerships, with the goal of fine-tuning education and training investments to meet the needs of the five sectors.
Economic Modeling Specialists Inc. (EMSI) is a professional services firm that offers integrated regional data, web-based analysis tools, data-driven reports, and custom consulting services. EMSI has served thousands of workforce, education, economic development, and other policy professionals in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, and the company’s web-based Analyst research and analysis tool is used by over 2,500 professionals across the U.S. For more information, call (866) 999-3674.