The close relationship between workforce development and economic development will be examined for the second year in a row during a day-long symposium at West Kentucky Community and Technical College April 17.

The event will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at WKCTC's Emerging Technology Building. The focus of this year's symposium will be entrepreneurships and apprenticeships, according to Kevin O'Neill, the college's vice president for regional workforce and economic development.

The session is open to business and industry representatives, including the economic development leaders in each county, according to O'Neill.

While there has been a separation in some people's minds as to what is workforce development and what is economic development, the two are very closely linked, O'Neill said.

"It's like 'which came first, the chicken or the egg?' They run hand-in-hand," he said. "One person saying, 'well, that's workforce development' and what they're describing can be more economic development and vice versa ... they're so similar they have to run on the same track."

WKCTC began the two-track emphasis last year, following an economic development "road trip" to Greenville, South Carolina, to see how that community used education and workforce training to stimulate economic growth.

"Last year we had about 100 in attendance. The participation was good and we had good outcomes," O'Neill said.

Speakers for this year's event will include 1st District U.S. Rep. James Comer; Jeff Taylor, the commissioner for business development, Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development; Robert Clark, founder of Sustainable Business Ventures; and Diana Jarboe, the apprenticeship project director for the Kentucky Community and Technical College system.

Clark is a well-known speaker on entrepreneurship and Jarboe was previously involved with the apprenticeship program for the state of Kentucky.

"They're going to speak on the advantages of entrepreneurships and apprenticeships and we'll mirror both of those subjects in panel discussions," O'Neill said.

Workforce development is seen as an essential process in developing a quality workforce, helping workers develop the skills necessary for a specific type of job.

The Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes the importance of the relationship between workforce and economic development, according to Sandra Wilson, the organization's president.

"We have been involved with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and their Talent Pipeline Management program," Wilson said. "That has really brought to the forefront more involvement in workforce development and helping fill jobs here."

The Paducah chamber recently hired Carrie Dillard, former editor of The Paducah Sun, as the organization's programs and public policy director to help address, among other things, workforce development.

"Having someone on staff that would have at least a part-time focus (on workforce development) is very important for us in our strategic plan," Wilson said.

The chamber's executive committee recently met with the Greater Paducah Economic Development board to talk about things they can work together on, and workforce development is among them.

"Their job is to be out recruiting and our job is to try help them (new business, industry) build their workforce," Wilson said.

There are a number of different programs that can fall under workforce development.

"It's hard to define exactly what it means. For us, it (workforce development) is a lot of things. It's recruitment of people to move to our community to help us fill our jobs. Eventually, we hope to strengthen a program for veterans, for example, for people moving here who are transitioning out of Fort Campbell."

Both O'Neill and Wilson note the importance of education being involved in a community's workforce development.

In any regional meetings that involve business recruitment or economic development, there is a common theme, according to O'Neill.

"They all tell you the same thing. When you have site selectors or if you've got any prospects coming in, you always want your educational folks at the table. It's paramount ... you've got to have them at the table," he said.

According to Wilson, students need to know what their job choices are.

"Is it to go two years at WKCTC for an associate degree and then transfer to a four-year college like Murray State University? Do they want a technical degree, a teaching certificate?

"It's also important for a student to know what jobs are available in our own community," she said.

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