Voice Recognition

KSBA News Article

In Conversation With Beth Davisson

Beth Davisson

Kentucky School Advocate
September 2020

In Conversation With features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. Beth Davisson has been executive director of the Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center since it was created in 2017.

Q. Why did the Chamber create its Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center in 2017?

It was created because year after year, our members’ No. 1 need is workforce. Typically, the chamber advocates and legislates on behalf of businesses, but the Kentucky Chamber is unique among state chambers in that we have a large programmatic arm. The workforce center gives businesses a voice at the table when we are creating workforce and education programs. Often, we invite employers to the table, but the center flipped that on it head. It has employers help create where workforce and education programs will go, with the end result being meaningful careers for students. The Center has the business community take true ownership of how we build workforce; it’s a business-led effort.

Q. Why did you want to become the center’s executive director?

I have worked in human resources and in education and it was apparent to me that the workforce ecosystem has been pretty siloed, with K-12 in one box, postsecondary in another and business in another. In HR, we would wait for talent to come in the door and then look at education and ask, ‘Why aren’t these students meeting our needs?’ And then when I worked in education, I saw that we would often wait until the last minute to get students exposed to career opportunities. At the Workforce Center, we break silos down and work together. I came in 2017 as the sole employee and now, we have 10 employees. Each program under the Workforce Center brings business to the table and involves them in creating programs that impact students and citizens.

Q. Ray Daniels, vice chair of the Fayette County school board, is also on the Workforce Center’s board of managers. Is having a school board member on the board an asset as you build connections between employers and K-12 schools?

Ray believes in the workforce of the future. He believes if we wait until students have graduated to expose them to career opportunities, we have waited too long. He is a tireless advocate and voice for our programs. He is helping make sure we are committed to our students in K-12 and ensuring equal representation – that we go with intention to schools that are underserved and don’t typically have the opportunities we see across the board.

Q. Among the Center’s initiatives is the Talent Pipeline Management program. Kentucky was one of three states chosen to be a pilot for this U.S. Chamber program. Talk about the work the pipeline is doing and how schools can get involved.

Since we became a pilot in 2018, 15 other states have followed suit. The system organizes hundreds of employers by region and industry sector and creates collaboratives for each industry – healthcare, construction, manufacturing are a few examples. These collaboratives take an active role in building talent pipelines. They identify their critical needs for workforce and how many positions they will have. Then they go a step further by identifying where their best sources of talent are coming from and support those sources – like K-12 schools – to be bigger, better, faster, stronger.

Q. Can you give an example of engagement between the collaboratives and schools?

The construction collaborative in central Kentucky identified that 50 percent of its talent was coming straight out of high school, then it identified the three high schools that had the highest performing electricians coming out after apprenticeships. The collaborative supplied information about those schools to other area high schools to help them see why employers deemed those schools strong workforce suppliers.

Q. If school districts aren’t engaged with local talent pipelines, how can they get involved?

They should reach out to us; we have talent pipelines in most districts across the state.

Q. Talk about the new pilot talent pipeline for education.

Talent Pipeline Management realized that schools also need workforce, so the pilot of our teacher pipeline began last spring. It involves Union, Webster, Daviess, Owensboro Independent and Crittenden County school districts. Superintendents have identified critical positions in their districts and we are working with them to fill those positions. Teachers are one of our most critical jobs. One other state has done an education pipeline and it has worked well.

Q. In 2019, the Workforce Center started the Bus to Business program. Can you explain how the program works?

This started with our board of 21 business leaders from across the state in March 2019. They said, ‘We need to show up for Kentucky students. How can we do it?’ By October 2019, we had launched Bus to Business, a one-day program where businesses across the state hosted 1,200 students. CEOs and leaders spoke about their business, career pathways, gave tours, discussed education requirements and did demonstrations. We planned it so the event would be at no cost to schools. Almost all expenses like lunches and transportation were covered by the businesses.

Q. Obviously such an event was not possible last spring because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. What did you do instead?

In 2019, the Kentucky Chamber launched Bus to Business, a program designed to bring students to companies where they can learn about potential careers. This year’s program will be online. Provided by Ky. Chamber


We provided Bus to Business virtually. We worked with the state department of education to produce interviews with students and business leaders from every key sector. There were online versions for K-5 and for 6-12. Students could fill out a learning worksheet after they watched. With a captive audience of students and parents, we realized this could expose parents to modern-day career opportunities that are available to their children. The videos got 4,000 students involved.

Q. How will Bus to Business look in 2020-21?

We will host a virtual event every other Wednesday each month. It will be called Workforce Wednesday. During these live events with business leaders there will be interviews, shared tools and resources. The events will be recorded so they can be viewed and used throughout the year.

Q. How do schools sign up?

The first Workforce Wednesday will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 21. Schools can register at www.kychamber.com/programs-services/Kentucky-Chamber-Workforce-Center/bustobusiness; after they are registered, we will provide them with the information to view the virtual events.

Q. How will the pandemic change the workforce in the long term?

In many ways, it has forced technological change at a faster pace. Employers have adapted incredibly well but given the speed of technological changes, businesses will need to communicate their needs to the education community quickly. That impacts the way we train our workforce. Kentucky has been the state hardest hit by unemployment claims during the pandemic. Those impacted the most are in jobs that might not come back and these people are the same populations that struggle across the board: minorities, younger people, those with less than a bachelor’s degree and women. We have to show up for these populations. We have to engage these populations at a young age. It is up to the business community to work with educators and help students dream about what life looks like after graduation.

Q. Do you worry that education can’t react quickly enough?

We are asking for a culture shift for educators, businesses and workforce providers, to show up for each other and communicate needs. We can’t expect educators to do this without businesses supporting them. We have seen a lot of nimbleness with educators when we bring businesses to the table with them. When we have active conversations to build solutions it is a different dynamic.

Q. What actions can school leaders take immediately?

Create career awareness and experience opportunities for students at a young age – from kindergarten – in partnership with business. I know the schools have been doing it for a long time, but the key is to do it in true partnership with business. If businesses aren’t showing up, call us. Businesses want to show up but they need an easy pathway to do that. And remember, they need to see a return on investment. They don’t want a school to ask them for equipment and never hear how it went.

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