Thursday, October 13, 2011

County aims for 'certified work-ready' status

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Thursday, October 6, 2011 12:22 AM CDT

Helen Mountjoy and Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly, who are leading Daviess County’s charge to become a Work Ready Certified Community, asked the Greater Owensboro Education Alliance to help boost the community’s percentage of associate’s degree holders and to identify or create programs that show students are receiving education on the soft skills employers require such as punctuality and attendance.

The community already meets some of the criteria -- graduation rates, National Career Readiness Certificates and community commitment for work readiness, Mountjoy said. Daviess County also will score well on two “bonus questions” involving comparison of GED goals to attainment and education credentials already held in the community, she said.

“If the community can get this certification, we will have a leg up on recruitment and expansion of businesses,” she said. “If we can demonstrate these, then we deserve this special recognition, this certification. We expect only a handful of communities will qualify.”

The two leaders enlisted the education alliance’s help at the group’s 7:30 a.m. meeting Wednesday at the GRADD office.

Mattingly and the Rev. Larry Hostetter, Brescia University’s president, are co-chairmen of the education alliance, which is a group comprised of educators at elementary, secondary and college levels and representatives from business and industry, government and economic development.

The education alliance works on initiatives that will ensure students are ready to move to the next level of study or training or in the work place.

Mountjoy is the former secretary of the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

Mattingly said the alliance works to add value to the workforce, which adds value to the community. That mission makes it a good fit to work on this initiative.

“It’s extremely important to bring together education, labor, business,” he said. “How do you make life better for people and allow them to take advantage of things that are out in the world? I encourage you to go at your work with full force.”

Mountjoy said she asked to get this group together so that members could take advantage of the opportunity to go after this state certification.

In 1950, 33 percent of all jobs were manufacturing, and in 2003, that number had decreased to 10.7 percent.

“The jobs that are left in manufacturing are more complex and require greatly different skills,” she said. The days when young people, either with or without a high school education, were guaranteed a job on either the family farm or in a manufacturing plant are gone, she said.

Today, the new basic skills are literacy, numeracy and technology, and employers assume their workers will have these, Mountjoy said. Employers also expect workers to be able to reason, communicate, collaborate, access information, think critically and be self-directed, as well as be able to work on a team and show responsibility.

And the same skills that are necessary in the workplace are necessary for college success, she said.

Counties may earn either a “work ready certification” or a “work ready certification in progress” status.

Daviess County must show that at least 25 percent of its population has two-year degrees and have a plan to increase that to 32 percent in three years, which is the Kentucky average. The number of associate’s degrees must be at 39 percent, the national average, in five years.

“We have some work to do here,” Mountjoy said. “But a lot is happening at our colleges and universities to support this.”

The second area of focus -- soft skills -- will require the county to demonstrate that students are trained and well prepared to know the importance of areas such as attendance, punctuality, teamwork, leadership and critical thinking. The task also will be to get employers to say they will give hiring priority to students who can show this.

“We have to get to a place where some of the things that are perfectly obvious to us are made perfectly obvious to others,” Mountjoy said.

The goal is to submit the application for the Work Ready Community Certification by the second week in December with review taking place in January and February.

Other states have developed similar certification programs, said Madison Silvert, executive vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., who represents the Citizens Committee on Education on the alliance. It has become a deciding question for some industries seeking a location, he said.

“Are you a work-ready community or not,” industries ask, Silvert said. “If you are, you stay on their list.”

Joy Campbell, 691-7299,