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Kansas Must Invest In and Train Young Workers: Report

The Challenge to Compete Kansas Workforce 2020 report highlights how increasing work experience and apprenticeship opportunities will allow the state to continue to grow. The state will also need to retain young workers.

(TNS) — Kansas should focus on reforming labor laws to allow young people to get more work experience and pursue efforts to increase registered apprenticeships across the state, according to an updated workforce development report from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Without new efforts aimed at employees, Kansas' workforce will remain stagnant over the next decade, the report also found.

Those recommendations are just a handful of suggestions that stem from the report, The Challenge to Compete Kansas Workforce 2020, which was updated this month. The chamber released its revised report Wednesday at its 2021 Workforce Development and Education Summit, in Wichita at the Marriott Hotel.

"Since launching the Kansas Vision 2025 strategic action plan three years ago, the Kansas Chamber has worked to identify how the state can better compete in attracting, building and creating wealth in Kansas," said Kansas Chamber President Alan Cobb in a statement.

"While the chamber and its members have long recognized the state's workforce challenges and have worked to address some of the issues, this report reinforces the chamber's advocacy efforts. It also will help raise more awareness about the actions elected officials, educators, and workforce development leaders should consider so Kansas businesses can find workers with the skills they need."

The chamber commissioned Economic Leadership in early 2020 to complete the first study of Kansas' workforce. It asked for an updated report again this year to figure out if the COVID-19 pandemic brought on any new concerns or recommendations.

The workforce development report was compiled from research and a review of national best practices. Multiple recommendations in the report reference other states that do something similar.

The report's authors also conducted interviews with business, education and workforce development leaders. It aims to look at how workforce development and education can better coordinate with the staffing needs of the state's employers.

The ability to find workers with the skills employers need can be the difference between success and failure for a business. How Kansas works to build its talent pipeline will determine whether or not the state can grow, according to the report.

The report also highlights how youth population loss in Kansas impacts the state's workforce and employers. To increase the number of people in its workforce, Kansas must better retain its young people while targeting former residents and young workers in nearby Midwestern cities to come home.

Overall, businesses need to increase involvement in schools and employees should understand that the path to a career and economic success doesn't have to include a four-year college degree, the chamber's report contends.

Student Work Experience



The first recommendations in the workforce report address work-based learning for students. One suggestion is to establish specific, state-level goals for student work experience that resemble those in Rhode Island's PrepareRI — a statewide initiative to prepare Rhode Island youth with job skills.

Other recommendations toward this goal include:

  • Extend school district liability coverage to provide protection for businesses that host young employees, interns or offer job shadowing.
  • Incentivize Kansas' public colleges and universities to expand student internships and job placement. Establish goals for the percentage of college students placed in internships.
  • Create more summer externship programs for K-12 teachers, as a way for teachers to understand the value of student work experience and what career opportunities are available in their region.
  • Reform Kansas labor laws to enable youth under 18 to get more work experience.

Talent Retention and Attraction



Making Kansas appealing to workers who both already live here, and those who live in nearby cities but could live in the state, is also a key focus of the chamber.

Creating requirements for scholarship recipients to remain in Kansas after graduation could help with retaining existing talent in the state, according to the report.

The report's recommendations in this area include:

  • Appropriate or raise funds for a robust talent attraction strategy. This strategy should be crafted around reaching former residents in nearby Midwestern cities, especially young people who might took to start a family soon. Talent attraction messaging should stress quality of life and affordability, and Kansas as a place that values a talented workforce and welcomes and encourages diversity.
  • Tie university scholarship programs (such as the nursing and engineering initiatives) to post-graduation residency requirements.
  • Encourage local and regional chambers of commerce to develop programs that help more businesses — especially small and mid-size employers — connect with K-12 schools for career awareness events. This could include in-school presentations, site visits, job fairs, mentoring and job shadowing.
  • Adopt the Kansas Promise scholarship program targeted at Kansas high school graduates studying in-demand fields at community and technical colleges. Kansas Promise would require that recipients reside in the state for two years after completing a degree or certificate.
  • Increase career transition outreach efforts to military personnel in Kansas who are preparing to enter civilian life.

Registered Apprenticeships



The report's authors suggest establishing a statewide goal to reach the national average for the number of apprentices per 100,000 people in the working-age population. The recommendation is to double the registered apprentices from 132 to 263 within five years.

To help reach that goal, the report suggests:

  • Create a state apprenticeship tax credit for businesses, such as Alabama and South Carolina have.
  • Place graduating high school participants in the Excel in CTE program into an appropriate apprenticeship with a Kansas business, similar to Kentucky's TRACK initiative.
  • Develop alternate sponsors for registered apprenticeship programs — such as local workforce boards, community and technical colleges and industry association groups.
  • Fund a registered apprenticeship program coordinator, through KansasWorks, in each region of the state.

Adult Education and Skills Training



Students and young people aren't the only workforce sector that needs training. The report proposes multiple ideas for bolstering opportunities for adults to switch careers or gain new skills, including:

  • Create more short-term training offerings at technical and community colleges for upskilling and retraining adult workers.
  • Develop more partnerships between the Department of Corrections, technical and community colleges for skills and training of those who have experienced incarceration. Establish a goal of having all those in prison earn an industry-recognized certificate by the time they are released.
  • Promote regional and county-level involvement in ACT's Work Ready Communities program. Currently just 11 counties are participants and only four are certified Work Ready Communities.

KansasWorks Statewide Job System



The final set of suggestions from the report involve KansasWorks, the state's website for searching for and posting jobs and helping with other steps of the job search process.

  • Continue the expansion of the Statewide Longitudinal Data System, incorporating workplace outcome data with education and training data, enabling the state to better adjust programming with desired workforce outcomes.
  • Establish and annually collect data on business satisfaction metrics to evaluate the system's responsiveness to business needs.
  • Fund a Director of Employer Engagement in each region of the state.

If Kansas implemented just some of these recommendations, the state could bolster the quantity and quality of its workforce, the report argues.

Slow overall population growth, combined with declines in many counties and the number of working-age residents, pose a challenge for Kansas. But a high labor force participate rate and job growth in multiple industries can help the state grow its workforce if it takes the right steps.

"We expect this report to be a living plan that will improve and expand in the next few years as the chamber meets and works with other stakeholders committed to addressing our state's workforce challenges," Cobb said in a statement. "We look forward to helping build a talent pipeline that allows Kansas and its citizens to grow and prosper."


(c)2021 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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