03/12/09 — County still pushing for 'certified' applicants

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County still pushing for 'certified' applicants

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 12, 2009 1:46 PM

Commitment and funding by the county are being hailed as the reasons Wayne County leads the state in the number of Career Readiness Certificates issued -- with 2,428 awarded thus far.

It is even more of an accomplishment since the less-than-two-year-old program has surpassed counties that have been in the program longer, said Diane Ivey, Wayne County Occupational Readiness Keys for Success coordinator.

"Wayne County is unique in its approach to the entire work force development and economic development," Ms. Ivey said. "The county put money behind the initiative that other counties have not done.

"I really do think that is it because the county has taken an interest in it and put lot of manpower in the WORKS initiative."

In addition, many of the counties lack someone to oversee the program as she does, Ms. Ivey said.

"They lack the liaison position to work with businesses and schools we have here in Wayne County. Wayne County has a lot to be proud of.

"It makes me proud that Wayne County has stepped up. ... the commissioners and the administration in the county who have put a lot of money and faith in the program and in me that I would be able to take this message out there and communicate it to folks and to the schools that were willing to stick their necks out to say, 'I think we do a good job and now we can prove what we do,'" she said. "For me that is what CRC is ... we can do it and we can prove it."

The community college system was charged with implementing the CRC program and that is where is the testing is done.

The program tests in three areas: Reading for information, locating information and applied mathematics.

"That is where the certificates originate that is why it makes sense for me to be here (at Wayne Community College)," she said. "CRC is not a WORKS thing, but it is one of the strategies WORKS is using to assess the skills in the workplace and help skill up the work force and to better market the skilled work force that the Wayne County has.

"CRC finally gives us a way to quantify and qualify what kind of skills our citizens have. It is a credential that gives employers and job seekers information in a uniform measure to a national standard about skills. It's based on WorkKeys assessments that were developed by ACT the company that most people are familiar with for the college entrance exam."

Wayne County was among the third tier of counties to implement the program in August 2007. Ms. Ivey started in September 2007.

The county funding has been important because there is "very little" funding on the state level, she said.

The county received $14,000 to implement the program.

It also has received a $43,000 grant from North Carolina's Eastern Region that is being utilized to allow the testing to be done free of charge. Once the funding runs out the cost will be $30 for all three tests.

Ms. Ivey said she understands that the new Spirit AeroSystems that will open in the Global TransPark in Kinston as well as Triangle Spring, which will locate in Mount Olive, will both ask for CRCs.

Different states develop their own credentials to complement the program such as in Virginia and South Carolina that has awarded more than 60,000 compared to North Carolina's almost 24,000.

In effect, Wayne County is in competition with the states in terms of bringing in employers, Ms. Ivey said.

"If you are looking at marketing your work force and being able to compare yourself to those folks who are in competition with you then it is important that you have those abilities to compare yourself in the same way," she said. "This helps support dropout prevention programs and encourages career exploration because there is so much to it. It is much more than a certificate.

"ACT has done good job in thinking through and developing a kind of holistic approach to work place skills. They can really broaden your options and give a person more ideas for what they could do."

ACT has compiled a listing of the most common occupations across the country.

Jobs that have similar titles and paths that a person would have to perform develop occupational profiles from around the CRC scores. If you are looking at somebody who has a bronze certificate then you can you use their occupational profile database to match a person with a kind of occupations that would require skills levels compatible with a bronze certificate, she said.

"So it opens up more opportunities for folks," Ms. Ivey said. We know that labor-intensive jobs are not as plentiful although some will remain. In the 21st century workplace, we know we will need more knowledge-intensive skills rather than manual labor type skills of the past and we need to be sure people can keep up with that.

"Problem-solving skills, critical-thinking skills are absolutely necessary. Employers want people they do not have to train to do things they already expect them to do. They want people who can think through problems that arise in the workplace and make decisions based on company policies and procedures. Having proof you have these foundational skills is an invaluable tool not just for the career seeker but for the employer as well when they looking at stack of applications or resumes."