10/22/07 — WORKS director tasked with getting more area residents ready to work

View Archive

WORKS director tasked with getting more area residents ready to work

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 22, 2007 1:45 PM

When a coalition of county, education and local industry officials joined together earlier this year, they did so with the goal of improving Wayne County's workforce.

The problem, explained Mike Hainey, existing industry specialist for the Wayne County Development Alliance, is twofold.

Because of Wayne County's low unemployment rate -- often at or below 5 percent -- there is only a small pool of workers -- about 2,400 -- available. And, of those, few have job specific skills, or even the ability to acquire them.

Now, with the hiring of Diane Ivey as executive director of the WORKS (Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success) program, those officials are hopeful they will soon be able to begin identifying not only what skills are needed in Wayne County, but also who might be qualified.

It is, Mrs. Ivey said, a challenging project.

According to the Hudson Institute think tank, she explained, in the 21st century, 60 percent of jobs require skills possessed by only 20 percent of the workforce.

And, she continued, in eastern North Carolina, the outlook is even more grim.

"We have a lot of low-skilled workers in eastern North Carolina and until a few years ago, a lot of the jobs we had were low skill," Mrs. Ivey said. "Now, we need to prepare a workforce that will be able to access higher-paying jobs that require better skills."

The keys to improving the workforce, though, are improving education and training, and doing a better job of identifying those workers who are currently underemployed -- overqualified for the jobs they have.

"There's more we can do (in terms of education and training)," Mrs. Ivey said. "But I also think we have skilled workers available. We just have to make the connection."

One solution to both challenges, she continued, is a program called WorkKeys.

"A lot of time, educators and industries don't always speak the same language," she said. "This will give them a common language, and isn't that what we're doing with education -- making people ready to work?"

She explained that WorkKeys is a tool that can be used to profile the skills needed for various jobs, as well as the skills potential employees possess.

Once people take the exams, she continued, they can either be given a national Career Readiness Certificate if they pass, or identified for remediation if they fail.

A gold certificate means the person is qualified for 90 percent of available jobs, a silver is 65 percent and a bronze is 30 percent. And while those don't measure actual job-specific skills, they do measure basic knowledge such as reading for information, applied mathematics, locating information, applied technology, teamwork, observation, listening, writing and business writing skills.

"You've got to be career ready. These are the foundational skills everybody needs," Mrs. Ivey said.

Currently, she is working with high school, community college, Employment Security Commission and industry officials to figure out how best to implement the program.

She hopes to have a plan in place by the end of the year.

"This is a new project and it still needs to be identified and recognized, but a lot of the legwork was done when I got here (in September)," Mrs. Ivey said.

Based on previous experiences, primarily as a the JobLink manager at Lenoir Community College, she's optimistic the program will be successful.

"There is really a need to have a workforce that can be responsive to changes in the economy," she said. "And this is something that works. We're going to bring all of this together and have a work-ready community."