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Henry pursues Work Ready Community certification

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Gov. Sonny Perdue recently announced that Henry County is among 34 Georgia counties pursuing certification in the state's Certified Work Ready Community Program.

The program is an initiative that would give local businesses a standard means to assess and certify the job skills of potential employees, in accordance with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Businesses would be able to hire partly based on the results of standardized assessments, written and provided by ACT, Inc. ACT's job skills assessment system, known as WorkKeys, is designed to help determine skill levels of potential employees. It measures real-world skills that are believed to be critical to job success.

Under the Work Ready initiative, the WorkKeys assessment would determine potential employees' skills in three areas: applied math, reading for information, and locating information (as in finding information on charts, maps, and graphs).

"This whole idea of the certification is really secondary to us trying to promote better ways for businesses to be able to hire ... and have a qualified and ready workforce," said Joey Balog, Henry County's initiative liaison.

Balog is the leadership development coordinator for the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, which is partnering with various local entities in economic development, government, and education in pursuit of the Work Ready certification.

One such entity is Griffin Technical College in Griffin, Ga., whose job will be to provide job skills audits for businesses in the initiative. The audits will help businesses determine job criteria - what skill levels and skill sets should be required from applicants who are best qualified for any particular job. Those skill levels are prescribed by the WorkKeys assessment.

Balog took the WorkKeys assessment prior to submitting the county's application to join the initiative earlier this year. "It's a good measure of work skills," he said. "[In theory,] it reduces turnover and increases the likelihood of a successful employee."

In order to be designated as certified Work Ready, the Henry partnership must drive current workers and the available workforce to earn Work Ready certificates. That is, Henry must have at least 1,344 WorkKeys assessments (i.e. individual employee assessments) done within three year's time.

Henry must also demonstrate a commitment to improving public high school graduation rates, and build community commitment for meeting the goals.

"In less than two years, Work Ready has helped transform our state and make our workforce our No. 1 competitive advantage," said Gov. Perdue. "This initiative is creating new opportunities for Georgia workers and ensuring our state's employers have a stable, talented workforce to help them succeed."

Counties have the option of choosing to accelerate their Work Ready certifications through which they receive government grants.

Of the 34 new counties seeking Certified Work Ready Community status, 20 have agreed to complete the process in 18 months, rather than three years. Those counties were awarded grants to assist them in meeting the reduced time table.

The half-dozen counties that began the Work Ready process in July 2007 applied for the accelerated program and were awarded as much as $35,000 in grants. "With the three-year route, we will have more time to do it," said Balog, Henry's initiative liaison. "Since we're a large county, we thought it made more sense to have more time to do it, rather than more money to do it."

Proponents of the initiative believe it will have the effect of eventually improving the state's local economies and quality of life.

According to the Governor's Office, there have been more than 16,500 Georgians who have earned Work Ready Certificates since January 2007. Some 20 companies have hired 965 Work Ready Certified Georgians over than past 18 months.

"The Work Ready program helps communities rally around a clear strategy for developing the kind of workforce companies look for when they choose where to locate their next project," Perdue said. "The long-term benefits Work Ready will deliver to our state will pay dividends for years to come."

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On the net:

Georgia Work Ready Community: www.gaworkready.org