When it comes to employment, Christian County still has youth programs, said Juliet Allen, workforce programs coordinator at the Pennyrile Area Development District. But officials don't know how that might change "because this is based on a federal law," she said recently.

Allen said that, in the aftermath of President Barack Obama signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014, federal officials want communities' youth programs to focus more on "out-of-school" youths ages 18 to 24 who aren't in school and need additional assistance to find jobs.

"We're trying to put them together with a program to find services they need and get the training they need to be successful," she explained of job efforts targeting younger people. "In the past, youth programs gave kids job experience while they were in high school. It's a lot broader than it used to be."

Allen noted that the new federal legislation is making sure a pipeline is being built for those older youths so they have the skills and other things they need to be successful in the workforce.

She said Hopkinsville and Madisonville community colleges and the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah all have programs that serve those older youth.

"What we saw when we changed from (the Workforce Investment Act) to WIOA, it went from 30% to 75% out-of-school youth," said Allen, noting that the law doesn't require communities to have any in-school youth. "We've tried to keep some money for in-school based on how successful Christian County has been with in-school youth."

She pointed to Kelly Gates' programs at Gateway Academy, where she said 100% of the younger students the academy serves has gone on to get their high school diplomas and where, during the 2017-2018 school year, 98% of those students went on to college, a job or the military.

"We've had to make reductions because of the large focus on out-of-school youth and the federal reductions," said Allen, explaining that the workforce act has taken a 21% in overall funding since 2009.

She said all youth programs were cut this year because there was another cut to WIOA federally, but Allen said the local community will still have its in-school youth program next year.

She noted that, with the advent of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014, there has been more of a focus on high demand sectors, and one of the priorities for the state is to "not just cross their fingers" and hope that a young adult will find a job when he finishes college.

Instead, the focus now is on matching employers with people who need jobs, and officials are utilizing a Work Ready Communities effort to ensure that the residents in their community are prepared to work.

In the Pennyrile region, all but one county have been designated Work Ready or Work Ready in Progress, and Allen said that one county, Logan County, is beginning its journey to be work ready.

Christian and Trigg counties are Work Ready while Todd County is Work Ready in Progress.

Work Ready ensures that prospective employees have the technical skills employers are seeking and that they know how to conduct a job interview, for example, or create a resume.

The whole point of the Work Ready communities is they're trying to increase the workforce participation rate, reduce unemployment and help employers meet their workforce needs, Allen said.

She noted that the state's Kentucky Career Centers, established across the state to assist people with becoming job-ready, can be a boon in the matter of seeking a job and a career.

"If people don't know what career they want, in the career centers it's showing them where jobs are open, what those jobs pay and (that) this is the education you need (for these jobs)," Allen said.

She noted that a lot of people are "trading employees back and forth, and officials hope to get people who are not currently working and equip them with skills so employers have all the skill sets they need.

"We're looking for employees who are Work Ready (and) have a specific set of skills," she said. "They want to make sure everyone is prepared."

FOR MORE INFO

•Visit kcc.ky.gov.

•Learn about Work Ready efforts at kystats.ky.gov/Latest?WRC

•To contact the local career center, call (270) 889-6509.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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