09/09/12 — County officially 'ready to work'

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County officially 'ready to work'

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 9, 2012 1:50 AM

Wayne County is poised to be among the first Work Ready Communities in the state, and the public is invited to help it reach the designation.

The Wayne County Work Ready Community Event will be held Sept. 13 in Moffatt Auditorium at Wayne Community College, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., said organizer Diane Ivey, executive director of Wayne Business and Industry Center at WCC.

"It's open to everyone and we would like anyone who's interested in the future of our economy and our workforce to come out and be part of it, because we're all stakeholders," she said.

Officials and employers will be on hand to discuss what it takes to be Work-Ready Communities, the benefits and the commitment needed to support it.

Thirteen counties in the eastern region are working toward the certification, based upon such benchmarks as high school graduation rates and employer use of the Career Readiness Certificate, or CRC. Several county leaders have signed on to support the effort, including WCC, Wayne County Public Schools, County Manager Lee Smith, Development Alliance of Wayne County and the Chamber of Commerce.

Thirty local businesses have also agreed to use the CRC to document essential work-related skills, Mrs. Ivey added.

Each community in the region was given goals -- 80 percent graduation rate, a CRC goal of 25 percent of the labor force, and to engage 10 of the county's 20 largest employers in the CRC.

So far, Wayne County has handily accomplished all that, Mrs. Ivey said.

The county currently leads the state in the number of CRCs taken, with 18 percent of the county's workforce having earned the certification.

Having backing from the county's largest employers helps, she said.

"The more employers support what you have for any initiatives, the more legitimate it is and if you can tie the skills to the workforce, employers like it," she said. "The thing that we were most worried about and I think all the counties in the east were, was to meet the graduation rate. We knew we were doing some wonderful things in our county."

When the latest results were released in August, Wayne County's graduation rate was 80.1 percent and North Carolina had its highest numbers in history, at 80.2 percent.

"I really do believe it's because we have a truly engaged community," Mrs. Ivey said, attributing the accomplishment to a shared collaboration among elected and organized groups working toward a common goal.

She hopes to see that continue, and efforts such as this are a good way to go about it.

"Our event is about Wayne County and how we are positioning a work-ready community and why we should even want to do that," she said. "We want to make ourselves marketable, for our economic development, for our employers."

Featured on the agenda will be keynote speaker John Chaffe, president of North Carolina's Eastern Region Development Commission, an employer panel discussing challenges faced in business, a representative from the school system talking about graduation rates and efforts to improve them, and an expert on Career Readiness Certification.

Information will also be available in the atrium, as well as light refreshments.

"My whole thing is informing the community," Mrs. Ivey said. "I think we're going to be a work-ready community. But I don't think it would mean anything if people don't understand it -- What does it really mean, how we got here, what we need to do to continue moving on.

"I think it will make people so proud of their county, I really do. And I think it's one of those positive things that we don't celebrate enough."

This is the state's first effort to define what a work-ready community looks like, Mrs. Ivey said, and she believes Wayne County has what it takes to earn the distinction.

"I really believe that work for most people is very fulfilling and if you give people a path to work, then you're giving people a new life or an opportunity to have the life they want to have," she said. "To me, there's a lot to gain from understanding what the workforce looks like and what the needs of our employers are.

"I hope this event will give people some insight into what we have to offer in Wayne County, what our employers are looking for from their employers."