Our View: Career center cuts move in wrong direction

Published 7:56 am Monday, January 16, 2017

Last week, state officials announced plans to reorganize the Office of Employment and Training, which manages career centers around the state.

The reorganization will restructure the 51 Kentucky Career Centers into 12 hubs and eight satellite offices.

As part of the change, Winchester’s unemployment office located on West Lexington Avenue will essentially close, leaving the closest hub in Lexington and the closest satellite center in Mount Sterling. In other more rural areas, this could mean two or three hours roundtrip to the nearest office.

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Kentucky Career Centers don’t only offer unemployment services. Additionally the centers provide veterans entering the civilian workforce with information about unemployment insurance, the job search, training and help accessing veteran-specific programs, along with services to employers who want to hire veterans. The Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation also operates through the centers, assisting people with disabilities seeking employment and independence.

The decision comes after the Office of Unemployment and Training has struggled financially and, after applying for federal grants, still faced a deficit of $4.6 million for the fiscal year of 2016.

Making cuts in the shadow of such a steep deficit is understandable, but what about the many people in Kentucky who will now have to seek help finding employment or workforce development centers in other counties? Furthermore, how will seeking employment services in other counties affect our local businesses and industries? Will unemployment offices in surrounding counties place the same emphasis on filling jobs in Winchester as they do on filling jobs in their home county?

Considering Kentucky’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, cutting access to training and education comes as a blow to those who rely on these resources by creating even more barriers to finding employment.

Those who will be most negatively affected are the poor and uneducated. Officials said much of what is done in the career center can be done online, but what about those who can’t afford a computer or don’t have access to internet? What do officials recommend for those who don’t have reliable transportation to unemployment offices counties over? What about those who have been laid off after decades at the same job and don’t know how to apply for jobs online?

Many legislators, particularly Republicans, were elected in November on promises to improve Kentucky’s job market, focus on our workforce and boost the economy. It’s time they follow through on the commitments they made to their constituents.

In special emergency sessions earlier this month, legislators passed at least seven bills focused on issues like abortion and right-to-work. It’s time to put a similar focus on funding workforce training and employment services so Kentucky can continue moving forward with improved unemployment and a prosperous economy.