UNION — The support of the entire community will be needed to make Union County South Carolina’s first Work Ready Community within the next two years, Supervisor Tommy Sinclair says.
Earlier this week, the Union County Board of School Trustees voted unanimously to support a workforce readiness initiative by ACT, the organization the organization which administers the Workkeys testing currently given at Adult Education. In addition to endorsing the initiative, the board also approved sending a letter expressing its endorsement to Union County Council.
The letter states that the board “agrees that Work Ready Communities may be able to assist with our county’s economic growth and sustainability.” It further states that the board looks forward working with county council, Union City Council, the Union County Chamber of Commerce, Union County Economic Development Board, USC Union and Spartanburg Community College “to realize the goals of Work Ready Communities.”
Since then, county council, the chamber, and the development board have each passed resolutions stating that the organizations “do fully endorse and accept the concept of Work Ready Communities” and pledging to support “the application for and the activities required to become a Certified Work Ready Community.” The resolutions also state that “Work Ready Communities underpins economic growth and sustainability for the citizens of our community, and … are the result of cooperative engagement of government, education, and industry.”
The resolutions grew out of a series of meetings in late September involving these and other local and area agencies and local industry.
“We had two meetings, the first being moderated by Elisabeth Kovacs of the South Carolina Department and Workforce at the Advanced Technology Center and coordinated by Andrena Powell-Baker of the development board,” Sinclair said Thursday. “It involved the county, the city, the chamber, the development board, the school district, USC Union, the technology center, the WIB, anyone that had a known or potential involvement in workforce development.
“We had another meeting that same day with plant managers and human resource people from surrounding plants because they are the workforce users,” he said. “Then last week there was luncheon meeting with me, Andrena, Torance Inman (chamber of commerce), Steve Lowe (USC Union), Kathy Jo Lancaster (Advanced Technology Center) and Kristi Woodall (school district) to discuss how we were going to a framework to address Union County becoming a credentialed Work Ready Community.”
Sinclair said the consensus of these meetings was not only that Union County should pursue becoming a Work Ready Community, but to be the first in South Carolina to do so within the next two years. The first step toward that goal was passage of resolutions endorsing and committing the various bodies to achieving it, an effort Sinclair said will require the support of the community as a whole.
“This has to be a community initiative with community support,” Sinclair said. “The school district can’t do it by itself. The chamber can’t do it by itself. The development board can’t do it by itself. The county can’t do it by itself. It has to have community support because becoming a Work Ready Community is a community initiative.”
Sinclair pointed to a letter he received in August from R. Michael Johnson, chairman of the State Workforce Investment Board, announcing that South Carolina is one of only four states in the country to partner with the ACT “in the roll-out of the Certified Work Ready Communities Initiative.” Johnson explained that “the intent of this initiative is to match job seekers with job openings and provide an inventory of the skill sets in your community to drive economic development efforts in the recruitment and expansion of business.” He said the Work Force Ready Communities effort in each county “will be a locally driven, county initiative.”
Getting Workforce Ready
An overview of the National Work Ready Communities Initiative provided by Sinclair states that the initiative “utilizes the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) which is a portable, industry-recognized credential that clearly identifies an individual’s skill sets.” The certificate provides “undeniable proof” of the quality of a community’s workforce and helps a achieve a “systemic alignment of state and county economic development in support of existing industry and recruitment of new industry.”
Sinclair said the development of an NCRC certified workforce that can meet the needs of new and existing industry is vital to the future of the county.
“With industry, one of the biggest concerns is a trained workforce,” Sinclair said. “When you talk about that, especially in the light of a transitioning workforce, a workforce that is transitioning from textiles, then we need to retrain our workforce regardless.
“The bottom line is if you are seeking industrial prospects they expect you to have some local incentives, a place to build or a spec building, and infrastructure to support it,” he said. “Even if you have all that, without a trained workforce you are not competitive in seeking new industry. To have a nationally certified workforce for our community will certainly enhance the development board’s efforts as they deal with prospective industries and the expansion of current industries.”
Sinclair said the next step in the initiative will be the establishment of committees that will help shape and guide the process toward its goal.
“We’ve identified an implementation team composed of myself, Andrena Powell-Baker, Torance Inman, Steve Lowe, Kristi Woodall, and Kathy Jo Lancaster,” Sinclair said. “We’re next going to add some industry representation to that core committee. We will then develop a Work Ready Community steering advisory committee as we develop strategies for implementation.”
Sinclair said the “mechanics” of the process of developing a Work Ready Community workforce involves identifying the various group within the existing and/or potential workforce and the skills they possess and/or need.
“First, we identify the folks who are still in school, these are called the ‘emerging workforce,’” Sinclair said. “These are high school junior and seniors and college students. Then there’s the ‘transitioning workforce,’ the people who are in Adult Ed or unemployed. There’s the ‘current workforce,’ those who are already employed in the public or private sectors.
“You begin by identifying these people and identify the skills they have against future workforce needs,” he said. “This is not a numbers issue, it’s a skills issue. You can have people, but if they are not trained and certified then you cannot become a certified Work Ready Community.”
When that certification is achieved, Sinclair said the county will be able to more effectively market itself to industry.
“What we’re going to be able to do is approach industry and tell them we’re ready,” Sinclair said. “We will be able to tell them we are site ready, incentive ready, infrastructure ready, and absolutely workforce ready. That’s going to underpin our economic future and, again, I can’t stress this enough, getting to that point is going to take the support of the entire community.”