02/21/13 — Wayne County recognized as 'WorkReady' community

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Wayne County recognized as 'WorkReady' community

By Steve Herring
Published in News on February 21, 2013 1:46 PM

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Wayne Community College President Dr. Kay Albertson speaks during the Work Ready Community award ceremony on Wednesday. Wayne County was honored for its participation in the program. The county is the first in the state to utilize it.

Wayne County was recognized Wednesday as the state's first Certified WorkReady Community -- a designation that local leaders said was made possible by partnerships and strong leadership across the county.

They also credit the county's success to its innovative Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success, or WORKS, program -- a collaborative initiative led by business training experts at Wayne Community College whose goal is to strengthen the region's workforce through skills training and assessment.

The award, presented during a brief ceremony hosted by the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, is a "stamp of approval" on the workforce, and makes the county more competitive when recruiting business and industry, said Dr. Ed Wilson, interim executive director of the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce.

"I would like to thank (County Manager) Lee Smith and the previous board of county commissioners because without them this day would not have happened," Wilson said. "I am sure that you (the current commissioners) will continue to support this effort in the future."

As a WorkReady Community, Wayne County has demonstrated a commitment to workforce excellence which is a testament to a comprehensive and collaborative approach to workforce development said Kathy Howard, vice president for Workforce for North Carolina's Eastern Region.

The initiative, under the leadership and direction of North Carolina's Eastern Region was funded by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center.

Communities are required to meet or exceed standards outlined at the start of the project. In addition to increasing the number of Career Readiness Certificates (a measurement of job skills), a WorkReady Community increases its high school graduation rate, shows commitment from employers, and fosters collaboration between community representatives in business and education, Ms. Howard said.

"The biggest thing is that when we are recruiting business and industry to our community we are saying that we have a certified workforce," Wilson said following the ceremony. "That is, from the industry recruitment standpoint, probably the most important thing. Then for our people looking for work, they know exactly what skill levels they need to have in order to get a job.

"Our employers, they just feel that this matches up their jobs with the skill of respective employees. It is an across-the-board kind of thing. I think it just signals the fact that our workforce is ready to go to work. If that is the case, that is the number-one criteria businesses use for relocating. It always has been -- it has been the quality of the workforce."

Wilson said he thinks other counties and states will look at Wayne County to see how working together "makes it all happen."

"That is what he secret for success is for this whole program -- it has been the cooperation between the various stakeholders that are involved in the program," Wilson said. "(Wayne Community College President) Dr. (Kay) Albertson just told me the other day she has already gotten several phone calls from other counties, other community colleges, to come take a look at how Wayne Community College participated in this particular process.

"It has already begun to draw statewide attention and I think ultimately it will draw some national attention as well."

"I couldn't be more proud to see how far we have come so quickly," said Commissioner Bill Pate, who helped launch the CRC program. "It just seems like yesterday that (Wayne County Development Alliance vice president) Mike Haney, (Wayne Community College chief of administrative services) Don Magoon and I were sitting in the back room with (Chamber director) Steve Hooks over there at the Chamber envisioning what is taking place today. We had no idea it would move that quickly."

Mrs. Albertson said educators often work with formulas. That was true in achieving the WorkReady status, she said.

The formula included three variables -- a strategic plan with achievable goals and objectives, strong leadership, and partners and stakeholders, she said.

"We could not have become a WorkReady Community, we could not be successful with our WORKS initiative if it wasn't for the leadership of our county government and our elected officials," she said. "We contribute much of our success to the Wayne County Development Alliance, to the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce, to the public school system, to our businesses and industries and yes, to Wayne Community College.

"We all know that partnerships are essential to making things work."