01/19/04 — Guaranteed workers

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Guaranteed workers

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on January 19, 2004 2:02 PM

ATLANTIC BEACH -- People don't generally show up for the first day of work with any promise that they can do the job.

In Wayne County, that could change.

County officials are considering a proposal to guarantee its work force has the reading and math skills needed for any manufacturing job. If any employee fell short, the county would provide remedial training at its own expense.

That was one of the ideas suggested during the Wayne County Economic Development Commission's annual retreat, held this weekend at Atlantic Beach.

Commission members were joined by county commissioners, city and town officials, businessmen, representatives of the school system and area colleges, and others to discuss ways the county could attract more jobs.

The "guaranteed work ready program" was proposed by Ernie Pearson of the Sanford Holshouser Business Development Group LLC. The group is assisting the EDC this year with long-range planning.

North Carolina suffers from a perception that its educational system is not as good as those in other states, Pearson said. And some industrialists have complained that their workers have lacked basic reading and math skills needed on their jobs.

One way that Wayne County could distinguish itself would be to guarantee the skill level of people who were educated in the county school system, he said. If an industry locates here and then hires employees who are deficient in some way, they could receive retraining at Wayne Community College, which already has remedial programs.

It's unlikely that the guarantee would be costly, he said. Most companies wouldn't hire people who didn't demonstrate basic literacy during the interviewing process, he added. Supervisors would correct minor problems on the line, or employees might be reassigned, he said.

"My hunch is you'd never train a lot of people," he said.

EDC President Joanna Thompson called the guarantee an exciting idea that might give her an advantage in recruiting. If industrialists are concerned that perspective employees are unskilled, she can hand them a piece of paper that will guarantee that they aren't.

"It's a great marketing tool, one we might never spend a dime on," she said.

Goldsboro Councilman Chuck Allen said the guarantee would be a way to fight suggestions that our schools are lacking. "Anything we can do to make that perception better, we should do," he said.

But the county is also obligated to its citizens to prepare them to hold jobs, said Mount Olive College President William Byrd.

"If we can get another shot at these people, to get their skills up where they need to be, we will have made Wayne County a better place to live," Dr. Byrd said.

Another suggestion at the retreat was that Wayne Community College offer a certification program for manufacturing workers. About 12 other community colleges have these programs, said college President Dr. Ed Wilson.

The certification program typically includes 96 hours of instruction, including generic manufacturing skills, safety, mathematics, and team-building. Some colleges offer specialized programs, such as biotechnological manufacturing.