The NCSL Blog


By Josh Cunningham

With unemployment at the lowest level in a generation, the critically low number of job seekers leaves many employers unable to fill job openings and meet their customer demands.

Some businesses are finding it harder to find qualified workers.(Photo: Getty Images)In fact, recent news reports indicate there are now more job openings than available workers. This phenomenon led some states to look at removing employment barriers that may be keeping millions of willing laborers out of the workforce.

Consider what's going on in Kentucky. Last year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) established the Kentucky Work Matters Task Force to explore barriers for five subpopulations who historically have faced challenges securing and maintaining employment:

  • Foster youth.
  • Individuals with criminal records.
  • People with disabilities.
  • People with substance use disorders.
  • Veterans.

The Kentucky task force worked closely with the U.S. Department of Labor’s bipartisan State Exchange on Disability Employment (SEED) relying heavily on the policy framework published in the 2016 Work Matters report co-authored by SEED partners the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments. 

The task force’s final report was recently announced at a press conference where the governor signed three executive orders embracing an Employment First strategy and directing various state agencies to begin implementing some aspects of the task force’s recommendations. NCSL’s experts in each of these five policy areas highlighted some key policy options from the report:

Foster Youth

Individuals With Criminal Records

  • Protect employers who hire ex-offenders from liability if that new hire offends during the employment tenure.
  • Provide soft-skill development programs to promote an individual’s success in the workplace. Employment skills include: being on time, how to project professionalism, conflict management, time management, etc. This training should be provided to inmates prior to release and can continue on the job. (see NCSL resources on offender re-entry).

People With Disabilities

  • As a state, become a model employer of people with disabilities by developing and adopting inclusive policies and serve as an example to private sector employers of the potential success of these practices. (See NCSL resources on states as model employers).
  • Improve alignment of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities with career development plans and coordinated person-centered career readiness programs (See NCSL’s resources on work-based learning for people with disabilities).

People With Substance Use Disorders

  • Develop a recovery peer support credential training program in workforce areas with high concentrations of substance abuse recovery centers. (see NCSL’s resources on peer support).
  • Develop a model employer assistance program based on best practices and offered as a part of business services to employers willing to establish it in their own businesses.


  • Establish a clearinghouse or “one stop shop” for all military related services provided to active military, military spouses and veterans.
  • Instruct all professional licensing boards under the Executive Branch to examine and develop a military reciprocity process. (see NCSL resources on occupational licensing for veterans).

If you are interested in learning more about successful approaches to improving employment among people with disabilities or other populations underrepresented in the workforce, please consider inviting NCSL experts to come work with your legislatures. We offer bipartisan technical assistance services at no cost to your state to help you work through these challenging and complex issues.   

Josh Cunningham is a program manager in NCSL's Employment, Labor, and Retirement program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.