Education, Training for Workers Focus of Economic Development Conference

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (WSAZ) -- Technology is largely responsible for the creation of many new jobs and industries, but it's also an obstacle for workers looking for jobs.

The gap between the skills workers have and the skills they need was one of the concerns at Monday's economic development conference in Prestonsburg. The conference was a meeting of the One Eastern Kentucky group and included a keynote speech by Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson.

Abramson spoke about the need to educate and train workers in order to provide them with jobs in changing industries and bring new business into the region.

Kentucky has cut $1.6 billion from its budget in recent years, but the state is still experiencing economic and financial trouble. One way to counteract this, Abramson said, is to convince businesses to expand or relocate to eastern Kentucky.

Above all, business owners say they need "educated, skilled, productive and drug-free" workers if they are considering relocating or expanding to a new area, Abramson said.

Regional business owners like Tracy Syck say there is a mismatch between the skills workers currently have and the ones they need to succeed in evolving or new industries.

Syck owns a document destruction company. Her business also involves converting secure paper records to electronic versions. Finding workers is not easy.

"I don't think they understand the technology that is available and the training that is available and how that can improve their lives," Syck said.

She said her company has worked with unemployed coal miners through a state agency, and that while the miners have a strong work ethic, they lack the technological skills to succeed in a job that requires both manual and intellectual labor.

Abramson noted that even workers who already have jobs can lose them or do poorly if their skills become outdated. He relayed the story of one man he met who chose to update his skills at a community college.

"He said, 'I was in IT [but] I didn't keep up. They changed the whole next iteration of IT and I don't have the experience, and so I lost my job,'" Abramson said.

He also cited one recent program at Lawrence County High School tried to demonstrate to young people that continuing their education after high school was crucial -- whether that meant a certificate program, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree.

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