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Georgia Work Ready makes a difference - Debra Lyons

Throughout the state, everyone is feeling the pinch from these challenging economic times. Citizens, businesses and governments are tightening their belts and coming up with new ways to stay at work and stretch their budgets.

While certainly tough, I believe these measures will not only help our state weather the storm, but make us stronger in the future.

In May, our state's unemployment rate reached 9.7 percent, a harsh result of the current economic climate. But under Gov. Sonny Perdue's leadership, Georgia is taking steps to soften the blow by launching Be Work Ready, a one-of-a-kind initiative to help unemployed Georgians jump start their job search, develop confidence and gain a competitive advantage in the job market.

Be Work Ready -- funded through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) -- gives unemployed Georgians a financial incentive to earn a Work Ready Certificate and improve their core skills, positioning the state to emerge from the recession faster and stronger.

Georgia is committed to creating a top-quality workforce. Competition to recruit new industry and jobs is increasingly intense. The days of only competing within the Southeast are over. We must contend with global rivals for industries and jobs. And the quality of a location's workforce is quickly becoming one of the most important factors for success.

We know Georgia's economic future will be built on knowledge-based businesses that require skilled employees. We are actively courting companies in the bioscience, energy, advanced manufacturing, logistics and advanced communications industries. To help these companies grow and expand, we must have a pipeline of workers capable of doing today's jobs and driving tomorrow's innovations.

For this, we have Georgia Work Ready. It is a unique initiative that allows Georgians to quantify their skill level for employers, and helps companies match the right talent with the right job.

To earn a Work Ready Certificate, individuals take free ACT WorkKeys® skills assessments at one of the state's technical colleges. The credential - which carries the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate seal - shows the individual as a skilled, uniquely qualified candidate for any job. Having the certificate shows a commitment to work and continuous improvement. Combining a certificate with skills learned from previous employment or with those learned through additional training shows a talented Georgian ready for work.

Companies can then match those Work Ready Certificates to the skills necessary for their open positions. Again, our technical colleges can help businesses by providing ACT-authorized job profilers, who outline the skills needed for success and the required skill level. Companies who meet minimum hiring criteria, either now or in the near future, or use Work Ready Certificates as a part of a training program to improve productivity, may qualify for no-cost job profiles.

Basically, it takes the guess work out of hiring. Companies like Georgia Power, NCR, Solo Cup and more are requesting applicants with Work Ready Certificates, so they can be more confident that the worker can hit the ground running, reducing training time and driving greater productivity.

In Georgia, we are keenly focused on the future. Be Work Ready is injecting confidence into Georgia's unemployed population, cultivating a skilled and qualified workforce for business and driving economic development throughout the state.

It is all part of our plan to help our people weather economic downturns and prepare for a more successful future. Through Georgia Work Ready, along with additional education and training through HOPE grants and WIA training funds available at One Stop Centers, we have made a commitment to building the nation's top workforce.

We are empowering our people to continually upgrade their skills and gain the knowledge necessary to succeed today and in tomorrow's new economy. Our people have always set us apart. Today, the building blocks are in place to ensure Georgia stands out well into the future.

More information about Be Work Ready is available at www.begaworkready.org.

Debra Lyons is director of the Governor's Office of Workforce Development, which administers Georgia Work Ready.