A man stands talking to a student in a classroom.

Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link visited Shelby County Area Technology Center on March 23, 2022. Photo by Shelby Stills.

Jamie Link began leading the Kentucky Labor Cabinet in July 2021, but several months later, he was asked to lead an entirely new cabinet. 

In November 2021, Gov. Andy Beshear announced he would be merging the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet with the Labor Cabinet. The move was part of steps to improve the state’s unemployment insurance system.

Link, formerly the Labor Cabinet secretary, is now secretary of the newly formed Education and Labor Cabinet (ELC). Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman stepped down in October 2021 from her position as Education and Workforce Development cabinet secretary in order to focus more on economic development.

“The Labor Cabinet and the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet were already closely aligned,” said Link. “Our mission is to educate, train and get people employed in the career path of their choice.”

For more than 35 years, Link has served in several different roles across the state, including as Gov. Steve Beshear’s deputy chief of staff, deputy secretary of the state’s Finance and Administration Cabinet and in the University of Kentucky’s (UK’s) Student and Academic Life. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from UK, where he says he formed lifelong friendships.

Link said he feels fortunate to be leading this cabinet during a time of economic development to be able to address the “education and training needs” of both children and adults.

“The Education and Labor Cabinet is a new arena for me, but I think it fulfills what I believe is very important and that’s lifelong learning,” he said. “You should always be learning something new and different.”

Link loved school growing up and said he is grateful for the opportunity to positively impact young people’s futures by giving them the best early education possible. He also wants to explore how private employers can assist and become involved with schools to connect them to the workforce as they discover their passions and skills. Making connections between schools and their community members also is one of the central themes of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) United We Learn vision.

While the secretary has thoughts of his own on how to connect labor and education, he plans to listen first and learn the best ways to get students on the right path and how the cabinet can assist the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE).

“Something I learned a long time ago is it’s better to look and listen first,” said Link. “It’s important to me to meet with the appropriate people at KDE and (the) Council on Postsecondary Education and to listen to how we can best assist.”

A man and a woman stand talking in front of machinery.

Kentucky Education and Labor Cabinet Secretary Jamie Link visited Shelby County Area Technology Center on March 23, 2022. Photo by Shelby Stills.

One way the cabinet already is connecting labor and education is through its apprenticeship program, which works with employers to place students in on-the-job training and classroom instruction under the supervision of an experienced industry professional. After completing an apprenticeship, students can attend a two- or four- year university or proceed directly into full-time employment in the field of their training.

“I need to learn more from the education professionals what we can do to help them … address what I think is all our goal: to help people get good jobs, establish good careers and be successful in life,” said Link.

Link wants to begin a dialogue between KDE and the cabinet to explore how they can work together to support students as they enter the workforce, especially as they continue to deal with the effects of COVID-19. Link was formerly a part of the Kentucky Wired project, which worked to expand access to broadband across the Commonwealth. He said ensuring internet access is important to make sure students have the resources they need.

“We have to be nimble and react accordingly to the circumstances surrounding us, but still maintain that drive to be successful in helping students achieve their goals,” said Link. “It’s (COVID-19’s) been a new and unexpected challenge on a global level, but sometimes challenges also present opportunity.”

The creation of the Education and Labor Cabinet must be approved by the Kentucky General Assembly – filed as Senate Bill 180 – before the merger is official.