RETAIN Kentucky offers resources to maintain employment amidst 'The Great Resignation'

RETAIN Kentucky set up at the 2022 Kentucky State Fair to share resources and information with visitors. Photo provided by RETAIN Kentucky.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 11, 2022) — A 2022 study from WalletHub published in September found that Kentucky has the second-highest resignation rate in the country in the last month and the third-highest in the last year.

A program implemented at the University of Kentucky is focused on keeping Kentuckians in jobs.

Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) Kentucky is a federally funded initiative exploring stay-at-work/return-to-work strategies. It also works with employees, employers and health care providers to address issues.

“If somebody has a work-related injury, we have a system that helps them effectively get the rehabilitation, the recovery and the services they need, and the support for the employer to help them work through that process,” said Kimberly Wickert, director of organizational partnerships. RETAIN can help in that process for individuals with non-work-related illness or injury. 

One of RETAIN’s success stories includes a man recovering from a stroke who worked as a janitor in a health care facility. The return-to-work coordinator worked with his health care provider and employer to help with accommodations. Those included a gradual return to work and modifying the number of rooms he needed to clean per hour.

“He could stay at work all the while continuing to heal, and then safely work back up to full-time duty,” said Melissa Claar, a RETAIN outreach liaison.

RETAIN also focuses on making the Commonwealth’s workforce more inclusive. Michele Laur, a senior job analyst, works with employers to determine essential job functions and make those more comprehensive from the physical location to physical and psychosocial demands.

“Many people have not looked at their job descriptions since well before COVID,” Laur said. “We're looking at that whole description, including education, licensure and job demands. This also helps a medical professional determine if somebody is ready to return to work. We want people to go to work and be successful.”

RETAIN helps Kentuckians navigate more than injuries and illnesses. The pandemic has also put a larger focus on social determinants of health, which can have a major impact on people’s health, well-being and quality of life. Examples include housing, transportation, access to nutritious food, language and literacy skills and child care.

“We've had somebody who was recently able to go back to work, but her daughter's bus schedule had changed by 45 minutes, which impacted her ability to get to work on time. We were able to successfully help her negotiate a shift change just by an hour with a coworker that she knew was interested in starting a little bit earlier,” explained Wickert. “It’s helping people identify barriers, thinking about ways that they can overcome them, and helping walk them through that and connect them with community resources that can also help support them.”

“We want people to know that it's OK to ask for help. That's why we're here. We're here to serve you,” Claar said. “Kentucky has a story to tell, and we need your help to tell it. We could take a guess as to where help is needed but having the data to back that up is crucial to identify the gaps and what resources are needed within those gaps.”

As part of gathering more data, RETAIN plans to help nearly 3,000 more Kentuckians by 2024.

RETAIN will use that information to help put programs and changes in place to make Kentucky’s workforce more inclusive and universally designed, as well as educate professionals on how to make appropriate return-to-work decisions. 

Who is eligible for help?

RETAIN Kentucky services are free in all 120 counties to participants who receive support to identify their stay-at-work and return-to-work goals and connections to community resources, as needed.

Eligibility criteria to participate in RETAIN Kentucky research study are:

  • 18 years of age and older;
  • Kentucky resident;
  • employed now OR employed in the last 12 months;
  • have a non-work-related illness, injury or impairment that could prevent them from keeping OR getting a job; and
  • not currently receiving SSI or SSDI OR not applied for SSI or SSDI in the last three years.

Participants can enroll in the study through March 2024. Individuals interested in RETAIN Kentucky can get more information by visiting, emailing or calling 859-562-3251.

RETAIN Kentucky is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and implemented by the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training and the University of Kentucky. Project partners include the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board, local Workforce Development Boards, UofL Health, UK HealthCare, The Council of State Governments, Kentucky Department for Public Health, Kentucky Hospital Association and Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.