With Grayson County officially sanctioned as a Work Ready in Progress Community by the state, there is much to be celebrated but also much work to be done.
As the 58th county to date to reach at least this level of certification, we are ahead of the curve in regards to business recruitment, retention and development, according to Steve Meredith, who has spearheaded the project along with help from the Chamber of Commerce.
Meredith explained that there “is a great deal of pride and honor in attaining the Work Ready in Progress Community certification,” however he went on to say that we cannot lose steam now that this certification is under our belts.
In order to reach the next – and top – tier certification to show potential new businesses that we have the quality labor pool they are looking for in a new home, we have more criteria which we will be required to meet within the next three years.
As a community, Grayson County can already check off three of the six qualifications that will be needed before that three year mark: a high school graduation rate of at least 86.1 percent, internet accessibility in 90 percent of housing units, and community commitment.
With a current graduation rate of 93.9 percent, 100 percent internet availability, and community commitment as evidenced by the support of individuals from a range of businesses and government offices across the county, we can be assured that these areas will be in proper order in 2018.
While these areas need not be neglected, the main focus of effort will be on the remaining three qualifiers: National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) attainment, soft skills development, and educational attainment.
The NCRC is awarded to those who pass the exam, demonstrating skills that are deemed necessary by most employers. The 2018 goal is to have 15 percent of our community’s adult, working-age population in possession of this certification – that is approximately 2,400 certified residents. We currently only have 234 certificate-holders.
In order to help with this serious shortage, the school system has agreed to chip in by giving the exam to all high school seniors, beginning this school year.
Additionally, Meredith explained that efforts will be made to raise community awareness about the certification and encourage employers to require it.
“We’re going to build this quality workforce,” he said, “but you [employers] have got to start demanding it.”
The soft skills qualifier is not measured by exams or exact numbers, but rather depends on employees encouraging and requiring these important work skills, and employees ensuring that they have obtained them. Such skills include typical good-employee behaviors such as showing up for work prepared and on time.
In order to show the necessary improvements in this area, one part of Meredith’s plan is to help create a Grayson County “Quality at Work” certification which focuses on businesses that help to meet the demand for these skills by requiring them in their workforce. The hope is to certify at least 10 employers per year.
The final, and possibly most difficult, hurdle is to meet the educational attainment goal of having 25 percent of the population of working-age adults with completed associate’s degrees or higher within three years. The current percentage sits at 17.9, while a whopping 19 percent of working-age adults in Grayson County have not attained a high school degree or GED.
One method outlined to help improve these numbers and reach the goal is to establish a local GED testing center. For many people, having no easy, nearby access to a testing center puts hopes for GED attainment out of reach, and this may be the first step toward eventually earning an associate’s, bachelor’s or higher degree for those individuals.
Additional steps laid out to meet this goal include securing additional instruction space for the current GED preparation facilities, developing employer commitment, building awareness of our local community college campus, and the creation of a program dubbed Grayson County GED – Batting a Thousand, which would have the goal of helping 1,000 individuals earn their GEDs over the next four years.
Meredith said that he believes our community truly needs this certification in order to be competitive in the recruitment of new businesses into our county. He also believes that with a good deal of hard work and dedication, we can achieve these goals.
“A quality workforce,” he said, “is just one component of having a quality community.”
Reach Brittany Wise at 270-259-9622 ext. 2014.