We have to work together to move forward

Oct. 15—During his address Thursday morning at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce Rooster Booster breakfast, Aaron Thompson, president for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, said that the key to a strong workforce is having a strong educational system from preschool through whatever postsecondary option a student chooses.

Thompson said developing an educational foundation that produces productive citizens and competent employees is a community effort. It should involve support from all educational levels and should include business leaders in the discussion.

“It’s not about pointing fingers,” he said. “It’s about joining you, to help you do what you do.”

He said businesses and employers need to be brought in early on to figure out what they need out of a workforce so that educational institutions can help cater to that.

The partnership among area businesses and Owensboro Community & Technical College — which sponsored the Rooster Booster breakfast — is a prime example of that working well, Thompson said.

Scott Williams, OCTC president, went over some of the school’s programs that also highlight that collaboration, including the GO FEMALES and GO FAME programs that provide a work-and-learn opportunity that connects students with local employers. Most recently, OCTC was approached about a shortage of drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. Those businesses approached OCTC officials, and an accelerated program was developed to help meet workforce need in this area.

Thompson also went over some goals of the CPE that will lend to building a strong workforce, which starts with education. The “60×30” goal seeks to increase Kentuckians’ credential attainment by 60% by 2030, an objective that Thompson said has been steadily improving over the last five years.

That goal is integral in developing a strong workforce, he said.

“Almost 90% of the people on unemployment during COVID didn’t have credentials,” he said.

After Thompson was named president in 2018, he went on a listening tour across Kentucky to hear concerns about postsecondary education from students, teachers, administrators and community members. From that tour he heard four themes routinely discussed, which he and other members of CPE have developed into focus points: affordability, the value of education, having more individuals in the workforce with degrees and credentials, and the quality of education.

Those four points have been the focus of the CPE for the last few years and will remain a top priority, Thompson said.

He ended his speech with a call for business leaders to support social emotional learning initiatives that educational institutions have implemented, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. He said leaders need to work together to ensure no student is left behind.

“We need to get together to move forward,” he said.

Bobbie Hayse, [email protected], 270-691-7315