Union County is a Work Ready Community In Progress

A plan to raise the skills level of Union County’s workforce to meet the present and future needs of industry has been approved by the State Workforce Investment Board.

In a statement released Friday, the SWIB announced that it had approved the applications of 34 counties to be designated as a South Carolina Work Ready Communities In Progress. The South Carolina Work Ready Communities initiative is a public-private initiative whose mission is to empower counties in developing a workforce that meets the needs and challenges of the global economy. A Work Ready Community is a measure of the quality of a county’s workforce.

The achievement of In Progress status by 34 of the state’s 46 counties was praised by Gov. Nikki Haley.

“It’s a great thing when 34 of our counties step up to participate in the South Carolina Work Ready Community initiative,” Haley said. “Our local partners are a vital part of our team’s effort to recruit jobs for our citizens. These 34 counties’ commitment to raising the bar is another reason why South Carolina is the new ‘it’ state when it comes to economic development.”

The counties earning the In Progress designation include Union County which in 2012 formed a committee to develop a plan to make Union County a Work Ready Community.

“This is an initiative to provide counties with a framework to validate that they have a skilled workforce ready to fill current and future jobs,” Kathy Jo Lancaster, Union County Advanced Technology Center site coordinator and co-chair of the Union County Steering Committee, said. “We’ve got to determine what skills are needed in Union County to fill jobs and recruit and grow business.

“It is also an initiative that’s attempting to align and integrate services of key stakeholders in the community,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of agencies that are out doing really good service helping residents prepare for and secure jobs. Everyone is working in silos, meaning they are doing the same thing and duplicating services. So what we want to do is integrate these services to be more effective. It also means that you’re looking at commitments from our business and industry sector, educational institutions, and city and county government.”

Lancaster said being designated Work Ready Community In Progress means the county is making progress toward the goal of becoming a Work Ready Community. She said the designation means the county has two years to meet the criteria required by the Work Ready Community initiative.

“The initiative is targeting specific groups of individuals including our unemployed individuals; our emerging group in our high school and at our college; the current workforce who may need additional training to perform higher-skilled jobs due to changes in technology and processes; and our veterans,” Lancaster said. “The foundation of this initiative revolves around WorkKeys testing and the National Career Readiness Certificates. WorkKeys will assess individuals in the areas of reading for information, applied mathematics, locating information, and talent, all work readiness skills. In order to receive a National Career Readiness Certificate, the individual would need to score a three in each of those areas.

“We have two years to meet our goals,” she said. “We have a certain number of National Career Readiness Certificates we have to issue to those groups by the end of two years.”

The importance of South Carolina’s counties successfully undertaking and completing the initiative was cited by Mikee Johnson, SWIB chairman and president and CEO of Cox Industries.

“We are excited to designate 34 South Carolina counties as Work Ready Community In Progress,” Johnson said. “By certifying and improving the skills of their residents with the WorkKeys assessment and career ready credentials, these communities are setting the stage for attracting businesses to their communities and offering job seekers meaningful employment.”

Robert Barnett, associate vice president of Workforce, Education and Manufacturing Policy of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that being Work Ready can have a powerful impact on a community’s competitiveness in the global market.

“The South Carolina Work Ready Communities initiative enables counties to demonstrate that they have a workforce that is globally competitive,” Barnett said. “Through the NCRC credentialing that efficiently measures workplace employability skills, counties are positioning themselves to have an economic advantage in being able to showcase the capability and quality of their workforce.”

By Charles Warner, Staff Reporter with The Union Daily Times