The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program: Providing workforce training for a 21st Century Appalachia

As staff to the Eastern Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), Inc., actively assists the unemployed connect with new job opportunities while also identifying specific workforce needs for employers within the agency’s 23-county service area.

EKCEP, a grassroots partner of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR), also administers or participates in multiple programs and initiatives that benefit from the support and partnership with SOAR. Additionally, these initiatives align closely with aspects of SOAR’s Regional Blueprint, specifically goals relating to the expansion of small business and preparing the workforce for employment in the digital economy.

In a recent statement, EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead noted the importance of SOAR lending its support to these efforts.

“We believe that if our regional economy is to recover following the coal industry collapse, it must be a collaborative effort,” Whitehead said. “SOAR’s partnership and support adds legitimacy and a regional push to what EKCEP is doing within Eastern Kentucky, and it makes the likelihood for success that much greater.”

Teleworks USA

Specifically, SOAR has played a supportive role in the expansion and development of Teleworks USA within the region.

An initiative of EKCEP, Teleworks USA identifies and develops legitimate remote-work, distance learning opportunities, and helps to prepare people for the jobs by training them in customer service and digital literacy, working with them on creating résumés and developing superior interviewing skills, then applying for an obtaining legitimate work-from-home positions through its website,

In 2016, SOAR awarded a KARD grant of $92,500 to the Booneville Teleworks Hub in Owsley County. The Hub opened in July 2016, and has since helped create 118 new telework jobs within Owsley County, accounting for an estimated economic impact of more than $2.5 million in new wages for a county with a total population of less than 5,000 people.

Teleworks USA also operates seven additional Hubs in Harlan, Jackson, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Perry, and Pike counties. Collectively, since January 2015 Teleworks USA’s system of Hubs helped create more than 1,100 telework jobs with an estimated economic impact of $20.1 million in new wages for Eastern Kentucky counties.

In 2017, SOAR also provided Teleworks USA with a $1,000 BB&T Bank Mini Grant that will cover one month’s Teleworks Hub co-workspace fee for up to 13 occupants in any of Teleworks USA’s Teleworks Hubs based on need and personal barriers.

TechHire Eastern Kentucky

SOAR is also a partner in TechHire Eastern Kentucky, a continuing, long-term effort within Kentucky’s Appalachian region that identifies and develops fast-track training and employment opportunities for workers in the digital economy.

Launched in 2015, EKCEP is the regional and strategic lead for TechHire Eastern Kentucky, though the program benefits greatly from a dedicated group of partners, including tech and tech-related employers, higher education, and regional economic development organizations.

Inclusive of all TechHire Eastern Kentucky efforts and employer partnerships dating back to early 2015, there are currently 43 tech employees in Eastern Kentucky. These positions could account for an estimated $1.7 million in new annual wages for these tech workers.

Other Initiatives

Other EKCEP programs that align with the SOAR blueprint include a program that assists local small business owners experience growth and preserve or create jobs through e-commerce strategies. Activities include e-commerce training, business marketing and promotion, training for businesses and entrepreneurs, and website development.

EKCEP is additionally working with the East Kentucky Advanced Manufacturing Institute (eKAMI) in Paintsville, Ky., to train and certify an inaugural class of 12 people in the operation of computer numerical control (CNC) machines. Once trained, these individuals will be able to enter the advanced manufacturing sector, which is currently seeing a high demand for new workers.