June 23, 2013
Local leaders kick off work-ready initiative

Southside leaders are encouraging workers to pursue a National Career Readiness Certificate to show employers they have skills needed to do available jobs.


Proving that Southside has highly skilled workers should help the region — including Henry County/Martinsville, Pittsylvania County/Danville and Patrick and Halifax counties — attract companies that will create jobs, according to speakers at a “Southern Virginia Work Ready Community” initiative kickoff event held Friday morning at Memorial Hospital in Martinsville.


Promoting the certificate is part of efforts to get the region designated a Certified Work Ready Community.


Southside has numerous providers — including three community colleges — of services designed to improve skills of the region’s workforce, leaders said.


In terms of having highly skilled workers, “we have some really great people” in the region, said Skip Philips, Memorial’s chief executive officer. “We need a way to show (that to) employers looking to locate here.”


That is the certificate, speakers indicated.


When prospective companies examine the region’s demographics, “we don’t always shine,” said Laurie Moran, president of the Danville Pittsylvania County Chamber of Commerce. That is due to problems such as the region having a lower percentage of high school graduates than many places, she said.


Leigh Cockram, executive director of the Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, said prospective companies’ site-selection consultants constantly ask “when are you going to get the data” showing the region’s workforce is well-skilled.


“Nobody is paying attention” to the large number of skilled workers that the region has, said Del. Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania. Becoming a Certified Work Ready Community, “I hope, will make people pay attention,” he said.


If a large number of people earn the certificate and Southside receives the Certified Work Ready Community designation, it will show that the region’s workers have skills needed to do modern jobs “in a measurable way,” which should help in recruiting companies, said Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins.


If 2,300 Southside residents earn certificates during the next two years, the region will be recognized as a Certified Work Ready Community, according to Julie Brown, project manager for the Dan River Regional Collaborative (DRRC), an initiative by employers, educators and others to improve the workforce.


The career readiness certificate evaluates a person’s skills at math, reading to get information, and finding information, such as by interpreting pie charts and graphs. It also is intended to show a person’s productivity, dependability, ability to work in teams and with customers, and management potential.


There are four certification levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. The higher the level, the more types of jobs that a person supposedly can do.


A platinum certificate basically means a person is qualified to do 99 percent of jobs whereas, in contrast, a bronze certificate means a person can do only 16 percent of jobs, Brown has said.


Jobs — including executive ones — are available for people who score at all levels, according to Moran.


“I did take the test, thank you,” she told about 50 people who attended the kickoff. She admitted that she did well on the applied math and reading for information parts, but not so well on the finding information part.


Her experience proves “you don’t have to be platinum to be a chamber president,” she said.


Yet some Southside companies are “having problems finding qualified people” to do their jobs, said Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville.


According to Brown, about 250 out of more than 400 employees at Presto Products in Halifax County have tested for the certificate, with the majority earning silver or bronze status.


But the company realized that many employees were having a hard time interpreting information from charts and graphs — a major way that the company communicates information, Brown said. As a result, the company might have to start communicating to employees in other ways, she said.


As of recently, 12 employers in Henry County and Martinsville, including the hospital and RTI International Metals, were participating in a program to help employees earn the certificate, officials have said.


Brown indicated that companies also can participate in programs to help employees advance up the certification ladder — for instance, move from bronze to silver.


Community colleges, including Patrick Henry, are administering tests to earn the certificate and helping students prepare for them.


Brown has estimated it will cost about $60 to take the assessment tests, and community colleges can connect people to an online site that will help them prepare for the exams.


More information about the career readiness certificate can be found online at www.act.org.


At least two dozen people at the kickoff signed forms committing to helping the region achieve Certified Work Ready Community status.


By Mickey Powell - Bulletin staff writer, Martinsville Bulletin