• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

EDA discusses new employer survey

The Woodford Economic Development Authority (EDA) spent much of its Friday, May 26, meeting discussing a program designed to make it easier for young people to find jobs at local industries. The program, called "Bridging The Gap," was begun by private citizens, who brought in members of the EDA, the Woodford School District, Woodford Adult Education, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) and others. The group's mission involves, among other things, helping those without high school degrees or with a criminal record get a good-paying job. EDA Chairman John Soper showed members a survey he plans to send to the major employers in Woodford County. Among its questions: "Would you consider hiring an adult without a GED or high school diploma if they were pre-screened by Woodford County Adult Education and entered employment with a commitment and timetable to obtain their GED ...?" "Would your company consider hiring a candidate that is in (drug or alcohol) rehab, under doctor's care, and taking a medically prescribed maintenance drug?" The survey also asks if a company would work with the chief academic officer of the Woodford school system to investigate successful high school-to-workplace programs and help design such a program. With a perennially low unemployment rate and new plants opening soon, Soper and others say it's vital to increase the number of Woodford County residents working at these jobs. Presently, several of the major employers admit that a majority of their workers live elsewhere. "They're really struggling to find workers, you know? ... We're the lowest (unemployment rate) in the state at 3.1, and here we are, bringing on 800 jobs ..." Soper said. Soper said an academic coordinator with the school system told him he wants to put together a program directed by local industry officials that will help high school seniors "walk from graduation to employment. "That was music to my ears. ... This is an excellent opportunity ..." Soper said. He said he'd already received a commitment from a plant manager to work on the survey and would ask the top four or five industries to take part, too. Paul Schreffler, EDA member and the Vice Chancellor of Economic Development & Workforce Solutions at KCTCS, said it was critical to involve industry up-front. Schreffler said the state's community colleges offer several programs that "we can pretty easily implement and make sure that students have exposure to and potential internship opportunities ..." Soper said some companies have been reluctant to add training programs for present workers because of fears that acquiring new skills and certifications would make them more valuable to other employers. Mike Coleman agreed. "We've been a (state-certified) 'Work-ready' community the past four or six years, but no employers are willing to put that program into their workforce so far," Coleman said. "But now, with the number of employees that we're going to need, they're at least warming up to the idea." Soper said he hoped to get the survey approved by school district and Woodford County Adult Education officials, praising members of each for their participation in Bridging The Gap. "They're excited, they're pumped up," he said, speaking of the latter. "They need population, and that's our biggest problem, getting the population to them, so they can assess them, train them at no cost, and get them to where they can walk into these jobs ..."

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