ASHLAND, Ky. — The state Education and Workforce Development Cabinet will move forward with a plan to remove Office of Employment and Training, or OET, workers from the Kentucky Career Center in Ashland, but the center will remain open and continue to provide some employment services.
The elimination of OET positions in Ashland will take effect Feb. 16. Unemployment Insurance assistance, Workshops for Unemployment Insurance and National Career Readiness Certification testing and some other services will no longer be provided in Ashland as a result.
On Jan. 10, the state announced the statewide reorganization of Kentucky Career Centers, citing a lack of federal funding for unemployment programs. The OET will be consolidated from 51 career centers into 12 hubs and eight existing satellite offices. Cabinet policy advisor Andy Hightower said OET workers impacted by the decision, including five in Ashland, were offered a chance to relocate to other state positions.
The Executive Committee of the TENCO Workforce Development Board, which oversees area career centers in Ashland, Maysville, Morehead and Mt. Sterling, met on Jan. 25 to discuss the future of the Ashland and Maysville career centers.
Maysville is also losing its OET workers. The career center in Morehead will keep its OET office fully staffed, and the full-time OET staff at the Mt. Sterling branch will also not relocate.
In a news release, members of the TENCO executive committee said the loss of OET workers in the Ashland and Maysville career center “will have a profound effect on the staffing and services offered” in the two cities.
“However, we believe it is in the best interest of our citizens and local businesses to maintain career services. Therefore, the TENCO (workforce development board) has decided to keep the Ashland and Maysville Career centers open for business,” the committee stated.
Core employment services, which offer assistance with resume writing, interviewing skills, registration in the state database for job search; skills assessments; career guidance and counseling; vocational rehabilitation services; job matching; Workforce Innovation and Opportunity ACT, or WIOA and trade training assistance.
The Ashland and Maysville career centers will also offer some business services, such as job fairs, assistance with hiring events, posting job orders and “rapid-response activity” for closures and layoff situations.
“The reduction of OET staff has a significant impact on our career centers and we will continue to evaluate the situation as it develops,” the TENCO members said.
The Office for the Blind and Office of Vocational Rehabilitation will remain open in Ashland.
The career centers closest to the Ashland-area offering full-time, in-person assistance with unemployment insurance and other OET services will be in Morehead and Prestonsburg.
Online assistance for unemployment insurance claims is available at uiclaims.des.ky.gov.
When the state announced it would pull OET workers from the Ashland career center last month, local residents lambasted the decision on social media, and some made phone calls to the state voicing their displeasure.
The Daily Independent previously reported OET customer counts for the offices in Ashland, Morehead, Mt. Sterling, Prestonsburg and Pikeville after receiving the statistics through an open records request. Ashland’s office ranked last out of all five offices in customer counts with an average of 2,849 customers annually over the past five program years, according to the data.
But local union leaders and other critics of the state’s move pointed to the rising number of laid-off AK Steelworkers in the Ashland area who have now lost their insurance and supplemental pay as reason to keep the OET staff in Ashland.
Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said Tuesday she’s still “not totally satisfied with the way the decision was made.” She said it “feels like another punch in the gut for steelworkers and other folks that have seen a downturn in the employment situation in northeast Kentucky.”
Ashland Mayor Steve Gilmore said the loss of OET workers in Ashland is unfortunate. Gilmore made phone calls to state officials lobbying for a reversal of the decision and Economic Development Director Chris Pullem raised concerns in a meeting with Cabinet officials in Frankfort the day after the announcement.
Gilmore had previously said local officials were planning to meet with state cabinet members in Ashland to discuss revisiting the reorganization decision. But the meeting has not happened.
The Career Center in Ashland is located at 1844 Carter Avenue.