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Project Background

The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) is a non-profit agency that has administered federal and state workforce development programs for 23 eastern Kentucky counties for over four decades. In simplest terms EKCEP’s mission is “Jobs for People; People for Jobs.” Under the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) EKCEP has been successfully attaining these two objectives through a combination of assisting employers with customized services and training, helping job seekers find employment that pays a sustainable wage, and providing funding to support people during occupational training and education.

EKCEP provides much of its funding support for occupational training through accounts called “Individual Training Accounts” of “ITAs.” Faced with today’s rapidly changing work and business environments-with their myriad of variables such as global influences on local economies, changing technology, rapid obsolescence of equipment and processes, volatile stock markets, and their effects on banking and credit-EKCEP considers it critically important to use the limited funds available for ITAs strategically to provide occupational trainings and education that support existing and emerging job opportunities in its region.

It is vital to EKCEP’s effectiveness that its investments in training produce workers with skills that both meet employer’s needs and lead to jobs that pay sufficient wages. To ensure that its decisions about how to apportion its limited training funds produce the best outcomes, EKCEP needs valid, empirical data about employers’ needs and real job opportunities within its region. The Workforce Opportunity Project was undertaken to produce this data.

The Workforce Opportunity Project took a scientific approach to gathering information from employers about what occupations are expected to grow in the near future, what skills sets employers will need in future hires, and what trainings job candidates should receive. The project’s methodology was carefully prepared to minimize errors or bias.

The data produced by the project will help guide EKCEP’s strategy for preparing eastern Kentucky’s future workforce.

In addition to gathering data, the Workforce Opportunity Project applied the fundamental components of a career development model that describes the world of work to the employers’ responses. This project aims to make the employers’ needs easier to understand by addressing them within the context of a basic paradigm of career development. This career development model is the Holland Code, explained on page 15.

The objectives of the Workforce Opportunity Project are to:

  • Provide historical, current, and emerging perspectives about the needs of the workforce and employers within EKCEP’s service region.
  • Identify the expected decline or growth of occupations and industries within the EKCEP region.
  • Document the skills required for the region’s growth occupations.
  • Document the skills employers identify as most frequently deficient in the workforce.
  • Document the education, training, or credentials required for the region’s growth occupations.
  • Document the wage range for each of the growth occupations.
  • Provide recommendations for prioritizing funding and other support for:
    • Four-year degree programs.
    • Two-year degree programs.
    • Certificate programs.
  • Identify the characteristics and traits (rather than specific skills) that employers identify as most frequently deficient in the workforce.
  • Produce a document for publication by the EKCEP Workforce Investment Board that will serve as a resource for strategic planning by EKCEP and its workforce partners and for career planning by eastern Kentuckians.


Job Skills and Personal Traits Background

The Workforce Opportunity Project asked employers to describe the type of skills needed in their current and future workforce. These distinct sets of skills, job skills and personal traits are described in this section.

Job Skills: The Employability of the Worker

In the Workforce Opportunity Project survey, emphasis was placed on the description of job skills within the context of four primary categories:

  1. Physical skills focused primarily on using tools, equipment and physical strength. These skills are coded as 100s in the survey responses. These skills are also described by Holland’s general occupational themes as “Realistic.”
  2. Mental skills focused primarily on analytical, intellectual and investigative abilities. These skills are coded in the 200s of the survey responses. These skills are also described by Holland’s general occupational themes as “Investigative” and “Artistic.”
  3. Social skills focused primarily on the ability to build relationships, care give and listen. These skills are coded in the 300s of the survey responses. These skills are also described by Holland’s general occupational themes as “Social” and “Enterprising.”
  4. Office skills are focused primarily on the ability to use data and information for decision-making purposes. These skills are coded in the 400s of the survey. These skills are also described by Holland’s general occupational themes as “Conventional.”

The job skills addressed by the Workforce Opportunity Project are the skills that a worker typically learns through training or education. These are “employability skills,” commonly referred to as “hard skills” in workforce development. Fifty-nine employability skills were listed in the Workforce Opportunity Project survey.

Personal Traits: The Sustainability of the Worker

In the Workforce Opportunity Project survey, emphasis was placed upon the personal traits of the worker within the context of four primary categories:

  1. Personal character traits that encompass and exemplify positive attributes desired by employers. These personal traits are coded as 500s in the survey responses.
  2. Motivation traits that engage a worker to accomplish goals. These traits are coded in the 600s in the survey responses.
  3. Social traits that enable an individual to related to others especially with a team. These traits are coded in the 700s of the survey responses.
  4. Intellectual traits that enhance an individual’s capacity for knowledge and understanding.

Each of the personal traits categories corresponds with Holland’s general occupational theme codes of Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional. Each theme code requires personal traits embodied in the work of this study that are broad in scope and not linked to one particular general occupational theme over another.

Personal traits in the Workforce Opportunity Project are the skills of the worker that are typically an innate, intrinsic capacity for positive behaviors. These skills are the “sustainability skills,” commonly referred to as the “soft skills” of the workforce. They are the positive behaviors learned and exhibited in the workplace. Forty-five personal traits that are linked to employability skills are listed on the survey.

Each employer had the opportunity to list and describe job skills that will be needed in his/her future workforce, along with the personal traits that will help workers sustain employment by displaying positive behaviors in the workplace. The Workforce Opportunity Project’s survey instrument was developed to address not only the employability skills of the future workforce (i.e., what workers are trained to do) but also to give equal weight to the personal traits needed for the future workforce (i.e., how workers behave in the workplace). Both sets of skills are critical to an employer’s future success.


The Holland Code and Understanding the World of Work

John Holland, a premier vocational psychologist, developed the vocational choice theory used by career development institutions worldwide. Holland proposed the world of work could best be understood by categorizing occupations under six general occupational themes. In addition, Holland proposed that every worker has basic interests that correspond to the six general occupational themes. The closer a worker’s occupational theme is to his/her basic interests, the more satisfied that worker will be in that job.

The table below provides a brief overview of Holland’s six general occupational themes and the workers that correspond to each category.





A realistic worker enjoys and can carry or lift, use physical strength, work in closed spaces, use manual dexterity, build, repair, work outdoors, cultivate plants, have mechanical abilities and fine motor coordination.

A realistic environment is usually structured with clear instructions to accomplish a task or fix what is broken. There is a hierarchy of authority and the work focuses on repairing, building or working with machines, or tools


An investigative worker enjoys and can accomplish mathematical computation, think in a critical manner, have scientific abilities, and work within a health, science or academic setting.

An investigative environment is usually focused on research, academia and intellectual pursuits. It promotes discovery, collecting, and analyzing and inquiring. It is geared toward the sciences, math, medicine, and technology such as labs, universities and hospitals.


An artistic worker enjoys and can be creative, intuitive; idealistic; excellent at communicating ideas in writing; prefer working independently; like to sing; write, act, paint, cook and express themselves.

An artistic environment is usually focused on creative ideas and solutions, flexibility and an emphasis on the development of products and ideas.


A social worker enjoys and can help people with interpersonal skills such as an ability to teach, care-give, counsel and nurture others.

A social environment is usually focused on opportunities to assist, train, teach, mentor and help others in an educational, healthcare of human resources field focused on growth and reaching potential.


An enterprising worker enjoys and can influence, lead, motivate and manage others with an ability to delegate, negotiate and sell.

An enterprising environment is usually focused on business and strategic opportunities to meet goals and generate revenue. Top notch service with customers is paramount with an emphasis on teamwork.


A conventional person enjoys and can read, monitor processes, plan, collect and interpret data, make decisions, manage time, organize effectively and budget.


A conventional environment focuses on organization and structure. There are reports to be compiled, phones to be answered, numbers to be crunched and regulations to be followed. It is business oriented with a focus on efficiency and carrying out responsibilities with precision.


The Workforce Opportunity Project uses Holland’s code to plot the employability and sustainability skills needed by employers.

The job skills and numbers used in the Workforce Opportunity Project are aligned with Holland’s occupational themes as shown below:

hollands themes chart

Holland, J. L. (1973). Making vocational choices: A theory of careers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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