Good afternoon Governor Bevin and legislators of our Commonwealth. It’s a pleasure and honor that I received an invitation to share with you today my past experience and views related to post-secondary education, which most appropriate for me is related to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
As I started thinking about how I would share my story and views today I landed on the concept of the past, present and future.
It was 1988 as a junior in high school I elected to spend ½ of my school day at our local Bowling Green Area Vocational School as it was called at the time to study drafting. I continued this path my senior year and continued on as a full time student following High School. As a fulltime drafting student I started paying attention to job placement for this particular trade and noticed that graduates were having to accept jobs away from the Bowling Green area. Being raised on a small farm in Warren County relocating was not an option I desired, so I chose to make a change in my curriculum. One of the great benefits at the Technical College was the opportunity to choose from many other skilled trades’ curriculums. I switched over to the Heat/Cooling and Refrigeration program with a concentrated interest in commercial refrigeration. At the time I graduated the program I really had no idea the opportunities that lay ahead of me, but the one thing I did realize is that the education and training that I received at the Bowling Green Area Vocational School had prepared me to be career ready, I was sure my education would enrich my quality of life and it proved to enhance my employability as I was employed by Houchens Industries prior to completing the program.
Today I look back on my career beginning as a refrigeration service technician, then becoming a small business owner, to today being Vice President of Stewart Richey Construction located in Bowling Green a subsidiary company of Houchens Industries. Today I continue to use the skills learned from vo-tech school. The commercial refrigeration company which I owned still exists as a division of Stewart Richey and the drafting skills I learned early on are still being used when I’m designing fire protection systems for our Fire Protection division. I’m proud and thankful for the education that I received at our local Kentucky Community & Technical College in Bowling Green and I consider that education as being the foundation which I have built my career on over the years.
Over the past two years Stewart Richey Construction has experienced great difficulty in hiring a skilled workforce for the many services we offer. This past fiscal year alone we spent $1.7M with supplemental labor agencies equating to nearly 65,000 man hours and subcontracted nearly $3.0M worth of work to outside subcontractors – all being work that should have been performed in house but we were unable to perform due to workforce shortage. Having to supplement such work force with labor agencies and subcontractors is very costly to our business, last year alone it cost us $750K in loss of margin.
At Stewart Richey we currently employ a workforce of nearly 300 skilled men and women all which we are very proud of. We at one time reached an all-time high of about 425 employees. That fact alone demonstrates our dependence on post-secondary institutions such as the Kentucky Community & Technical Colleges. We view these institutions as business partners and being the conduit or pipeline to say for educating and preparing men and women that will fuel our future workforce needs.
Since 2008 Kentucky Community & Technical College System has lost nearly $39M in appropriations from the Kentucky legislature. The KCTCS has instituted multiple cost savings measures such as the elimination of more than 250 staff and faculty members. Proposed additional cuts would require further reduction or reallocation of additional staff and faculty, programs and services, classroom technology and equipment, professional development and needed maintenance of their facilities.
Our future is a bit concerning as we continue to see our skilled workforce retire with few to replenish. Our post-secondary institutions continue to face the challenge of proposed state appropriation cuts, Kentucky becoming known as one of only a handful of states that has not begun to re-invest in higher education since the end of the recession. At what point in time do we ask ourselves; what message are we sending in regard to higher education?
Given our current and foreseeable future workforce issues at Stewart Richey we recently decided to hire an in house Workforce Development Director. Our Director has been tasked with developing an in house training and development plan that will provide career paths for men and women that wish to learn particular skilled trades within our industry. 10 years ago we would not have been thinking of such a position but I will say that we are excited to have made this decision as we see it being a tool that will make us an employer of choice by offering career paths, opportunity for professional development and ultimately advancement opportunities for our employees.
Being a graduate of the 2014 Leadership Kentucky class I had an opportunity to travel all across our Commonwealth learning more about our great state and meeting some of the finest folks you would ever come across. In our travel I recognized the many resources we are blessed with. Governor Bevin, and our legislators it’s my opinion that the two greatest assets and resources we have is our Educational Institutions K through Post-Secondary and the citizens of our commonwealth.
It’s critical that Kentucky maintains the ability to produce the highly skilled workforce needed for all industries to replenish our retiring workforce, to compete for new business and industry and to support the expansion of our existing companies. With all due respect I ask that state appropriations in regard to education not be reduced but increased. Investment in education is an investment in children, men and women that are enrolled in our learning facilities and an investment in the sustainability of Kentucky Businesses.