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Hall, Jackson counties strive to earn ‘work ready’ status

POSTED: February 22, 2009 11:41 p.m.

Hall and Jackson counties are helping Georgia officials reach a goal that could boost statewide economic development.

In 2006, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce launched the Georgia Work Ready program, with a goal of boosting the "marketability of Georgia’s work force and drive future economic growth for the state."

"This (initiative) has become important to us because it’s important to the state. Georgia wants to be the first in the nation to have a certified work force and as a result we feel it is important for us to do our part," said Shane Short, the president and chief executive officer of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.

To help meet that goal, Hall and Jackson county officials are striving to become certified Work Ready Communities. Counties must reach several benchmarks to achieve that, including a minimum public high school graduation rate of 70 percent and have certified as work ready at least 3 percent of existing work force and 25 percent of available work force.

"We already have a highly skilled work force, but not having that Work Ready Community certification may give the impression that we do not have a skilled work force, which isn’t true," said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. "Having the Work Ready title is like a pat on the back."

On average, it takes around three years for counties to become a certified Work Ready Community.

With more than 200,000 residents, Evans said it may take Hall County a bit longer than some smaller communities to reach the benchmarks. Short said Jackson County officials hope to have requirements fulfilled by June.

"We are finding that more and more employers are looking to hire certified Work Ready employees," Short said.

"(Being a certified Work Ready state) can help to boost economic development because as companies are considering to relocate to Georgia, we can say we have say we guarantee that we have this many employees with these skills. If you don’t have good employees, you can’t have a good business."

For the work force to be certified Work Ready, individuals must take the WorkKeys Assessment that was developed by ACT.

The assessment tests individuals’ aptitude for applied math, locating information and reading for information — skills deemed necessary to succeed in the work force. Assessments are then scored and test-takers are issued a portfolio outlining how their skills compare to job requirements. Test-takers are also issued a Work Ready Certificate, which can be used when applying for a job to let employers know the individual has the skills they claim to have mastered.

The county-level Work Ready initiative is a partnership between the local educational system and business community. The WorkKeys Assessment is administered through the Georgia System of Technical Colleges and two Board of Regents colleges that have technical education departments. Adults already in the work force, or those who are interested in joining the work force, may take the exam at no cost at one of the three Lanier Technical College campuses in Commerce, Winder or Cumming.

Adults in the work force and high school seniors are being encouraged to take the assessment.

"Educators should encourage their graduating students to become certified to improve their chances of success in entry-level and subsequent jobs. Graduating seniors can use the results to make career and post-secondary education decisions," according to the Governor’s Office of Work Force Development.

Students at Jefferson High School recently took the WorkKeys Assessment.

"Staff from the Jackson campus of Lanier Technical College came over to help us administer the tests to the students. We had around 185 students take the test," said Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, Jefferson City School System associate superintendent. "Coupled with their diploma, the Work Ready Certificate will help the students if they want to go straight into the work force or if they choose to continue their education."



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