Two of the county executive judge candidates share their thoughts on the role education plays in workforce development in social media posts, clashing over how to bring more Pulaskians at work.
Meanwhile, the third candidate uses her years of experience in education and workforce development to think about how best to collaborate with employers.
Over the weekend, incumbent Steve Kelley posted messages on Facebook in response to a Feb. 28 post from Marshall Todd.
Todd said Pulaski had lost 2,100 workers since 2013 and said as a businessman in house building and agricultural fields he knew “what it takes to create jobs”.
Todd said, “I will propose to our local school systems that we implement programs that are now used in over 250 schools across the country to reach our children at the middle and early high school level to develop the work ethic, teaching social skills, and taking pride in what you do while focusing on your career. We are producing too many graduate students without the right skills needed to join the job market.
It was the last sentence that angered Kelley, who said Todd had “offended a lot of my close friends and family with his plans to fix our schools. … Our school systems are NOT the reason we are seeing a decline in labor force participation. Our schools and teachers are doing a great job of educating our young people for their future. For him, making such a statement is a blow to all teachers in our school systems.
On Monday, Todd told the Commonwealth Journal that the intent of his original posts was not to blame the education system.
“I am not condemning teachers or our school administrators. My wife, Shelia, was a teacher for 36 years and taught in all three school districts,” Todd said.
“I know how exhausting it is and how much sacrifice our teachers make every day. They are the light for many students. I know our schools well and know that we have the best quality teachers and administrators. I know that our school systems have their own curricula that they use with the compulsory studies required by the state.
On Tuesday, the Commonwealth Journal discussed workforce development with the race’s third nominee, Shirlene Epperson Taylor, who spent 26 years in Cumberlands’ workforce department and served on several boards schools in local school systems.
Taylor’s view was that schools do a good job of promoting workforce development.
“We have a very strong education system here,” she said. “…”The education system here is very open to the issues and needs of the workforce in our community.”
This includes local high schools and Somerset Community College, which she said she has worked closely with over the years.
Schools have programs that help young people find work experience and internship programs while they are still in high school.
The Pulaski and Somerset schools also participate in programs such as the Work Ethics Seal program, while SCC participates in the Kentucky FAME (Federation for Advance Manufacturing Education) program.
There is also the Pulaski County Area Technology Center (ATC), where high school students can earn dual credit courses.
ATC offers programs in Automotive Technology, Construction Carpentry, Health Sciences, Industrial Maintenance, and Welding Technology.
But while Taylor and Kelley disagreed with Todd that schools aren’t turning out work-ready students, they did agree that the area is experiencing a shortage of work.
“We have a labor issue right now,” Taylor said. “It’s not because of the school system. It’s because people haven’t gone back to work.
Kelley said the lack of manpower is a national issue, not just here in Pulaski.
Kelley offered three reasons for the problem:
• More workers are retiring than there are young workers entering to replace them.
• Childcare services are unavailable or unaffordable, forcing single parents out of the workforce.
• The federal government encourages people not to work, giving them a reason to stay home.
Taylor said the federal incentives, as well as the shutdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, had a lot to do with people staying home.
“Kentucky is number 48 in labor force participation,” she said. “We are just ahead of West Virginia and Mississippi. In the state of Kentucky, 80,000 people have not returned to work and there are 160,000 job openings, according to the Kentucky Chamber [of Commerce].”
Todd’s solution was the programs he said he wanted to implement in local schools. “My hope is to always be a help for our local schools and businesses,” Todd said. “I have spoken with people from across the state and nation who have implemented a program that helps teach job skills starting at the college level. This program has been implemented in over 250 schools across the country.This is an additional program that can help students navigate the ever-changing job market.
“It was never about the school system and its ability to teach students. I’m not here to try to fix our schools or interfere with their teaching. This is for educators and the Department of Education.
And while Todd agreed with Kelley that the reasons Kelley presented were contributing to the labor problem, he said: “These are just some of the reasons why we have problems. of labor, the main reason being that the federal government and the state continue to give incentives. not to work. That was the point of my article, to try to change the mindset of our children who might not see the need to go to college and would like to enter the workforce at an earlier age.
“COVID has definitely changed our workforce,” he added.
Taylor’s solution? Create a team that brings together all parties who will seek solutions.
“If I am lucky enough to have this honor of being a county judge, I will continuously work with our education system, our employers and other partners to assemble a team to examine what they believe to be the problems,” she said.