County a ‘Work Ready Community’

Union County’s ability to successfully attract new industry and to retain and assist in the expansion of existing industries just got a tremendous boost.

In a letter dated May 24, Cheryl M. Stanton, Executive Director of the SC Department of Employment and Workforce, informed Kathy Jo Lancaster, Site Coordinator for the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College, that Union County has achieved “Work Ready Community” status.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you and your team on becoming a Certified Work Ready Community. The commitment and determination required to become a certified county is testimony of your sincerity in having a qualified workforce to meet the needs of today’s businesses.

Your understanding of businesses workforce needs will be critical as your county begins to develop goals on maintining the work ready status. I’m sure you are already working with your partners on where to promote improvements within your workforce.

Congratulations again on the well-deserved recognition of becoming a Work Ready Community and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions or best practices to share on utilizing your work ready status to serve new and existing business.

Stanton’s letter and the county’s achievement of Work Ready Community status are the result of a process that began in 2013 when a coalition of local educational institutions including what is now called the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College; the Union County School District and its Adult Education program; local government; state agencies like SCWorks; and local industries began working together to achieve that status. Their goal in seeking to achieve that status was to make the county competitive in recruiting and retaining industry by creating a workforce with the ability to fill the jobs of today and to prepare to fill the jobs of tomorrow.

Lancaster said Thursday that its designation as a Work Ready Community means the county has met that goal.

“What this means for our community and this region is Union County workers have the necessary skills to fill existing jobs and the ability to master skills required by new jobs,” Lancaster said. “Having this designation gives Union County a competitive edge when attracing new business and industry to the area and helping to sustain and grow existing industries as well.”

Katherine Pendergrass, Union County Director of Workforce Development, welcomed the news, saying that “it’s such a worthy goals to achieve because it lets business and industry know that there are Union County residents who went that extra mile to receive the certification and have the kills they are looking for. When employers want to recruit there will be a pool of better prepared jobseekers who can meet their needs.”

Union County School District Director of Instruction and Accountability Cindy Langley said the county’s achieving Work Ready Community status was based in part on Work Keys testing and the percentage of students and adults who have acquired Work Keys certification. Langley said those undergoing Work Keys testing are tested in the areas of Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Soft Skills. She said the four levels of certification are Bronze which covers 16 percent of all jobs; Silver which covers 67 percent; Gold which covers 83 percent; and Platinum which covers 99 percent.

Lancaster said that each county that undertakes the Work Ready Community process is required to have a certain number of persons pass the Work Keys tests. She said Union County’s goal was 411 but a total of 673 local residents had passed the tests enabling the county to not only meet but exceed its goal.

Of those that attained Work Keys certification 222 achieved Bronze, 357 achieved Silver, and 83 achieved Gold.

Now that the county has achieved Work Ready Community status, the next step will be to continually maintain and improve that status.

“We have to get our industries involved in this and see there is a connection between Work Keys certification and existing jobs and those they anticipate in the future,” Lancaster said. “We’ve got to show them and help them understand what it means when someone comes in with Work Keys certification.”

Langley said that maintaining the county’s Work Ready Community status will also require developing more pathways for training in the designated areas of the Work Keys certifcation process for Adult Education students. She said this will be part of the planned relocation of the Adult Education program to the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College.

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Times