Kentucky’s workforce has seen a decrease in workforce participation and many have collaborated on efforts seeking solutions to eliminate barriers that often prohibit people from finding a sustainable job. At a recent press conference, Governor Beshear announced efforts to boost workforce participation. Ashli Watts with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce spoke to how our workforce is currently at 58%, still below pre-pandemic levels. Currently, there are more than 160,000 open jobs throughout the commonwealth and less than 80,000 people actively looking for a career. 

“To fill the jobs of today and tomorrow, we need to make sure that every Kentuckian who wants to work is fully able to do so,” said Ashli Watts, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. “In many instances, this means removing barriers to employment.”

One of the main barriers preventing Kentuckians from working is having a criminal record or currently being incarcerated with no plans for employment once they’re released. Every year, an estimated 300,000 people are released from jail and about 1 in 3 of those individuals recidivate. Studies show that connection to meaningful and secure employment reduces the cycle of recidivism, which is a goal of the state’s new Prison-to-Work Pipeline initiative with the Kentucky Chamber. Beshear announced the continuing efforts of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation’s work which started out as a pilot program and has been ongoing since 2018, now expanding to all correctional facilities statewide.

By removing barriers, the program hopes to especially help parents experiencing incarceration connect with growth-oriented careers to help them support themselves and their families once released. Being incarcerated is a huge stressor on families as it threatens families’ emotional, physical, educational, and financial well-being. This program hopes to help individuals to find careers not just to put food on the table, but to give them a career that they are proud of and excited to be a part of.  

The goal of the program is ultimately to bolster workforce participation by ensuring incarcerated individuals have a job secured and a start date before they’re released. They provide incarcerated individuals with help building their resumes, preparing for job interviews, and other skills necessary to obtain a job. Employers participating in the program are able to virtually interview incarcerated individuals seeking employment.

If you’re an employer experiencing short staff due to Kentucky’s workforce crisis, consider looking into this second chance program to help transform our workforce and make a difference in the lives of families who have experienced incarceration. 

View a video message from a former inmate and a Kentucky employer who have successfully been matched through the Prison-to-Work Pipeline. Employers interested in participating in the program should contact the Kentucky Chamber.