March 15, 2013

A regional organization is promoting a National Career Readiness Certificate as a way of ensuring businesses that workers are highly skilled.


Most jobs today require “more than a high school diploma,” said Julie Brown, project manager for the Dan River Regional Collaborative (DRRC), an initiative by employers, educators and others to improve Southside’s workforce.


In the region, “lots of jobs are going unfilled” because workers lack skills needed to do them, Brown told the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s board on Thursday.


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.


These “really are essential skills” for workers to have today, Brown said.


Career readiness certificates have been around for years. Virginia was the first state to have one, and then the concept was expanded nationwide.


According to Brown, Virginia is transitioning to a national certificate developed by ACT, the nonprofit organization that administers college admissions and placement tests to high school students.


College degrees and other academic credentials remain important, she said. But what a person learns in a training program at one educational institution may be somewhat different than what someone else who attended another program at another institution learned, she noted.


For employers, the certificate helps “make sure you’re comparing apples to apples” when evaluating applicants trained in different places, Brown said.


She compared it to testing for advanced placement courses in high school, which is done based on national standards.


The certificate is appropriate for most all types of jobs, from health care to retail, she said.


“Have you taken it?” chamber board Chairman Guy Stanley asked Brown.


“I’m going to,” she replied.


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 can do 99 percent of jobs, Brown said. A bronze certificate means a person can do only 16 percent of jobs, she said.


Virginia’s original certificate lacked a platinum level, she added.


Community colleges in the region, including Patrick Henry, are administering certification tests and helping students prepare for them.


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


But “it’s hard to say” just how much time and effort someone needs to prepare, Brown said, because the tests are designed to “assess things you’ve learned over time.”


Some people take the tests without preparing for them, she said.


If 2,300 Southside residents earn certificates during the next two years, the region will be recognized as a Certified Work Ready Community, Brown said.


That should help the region — which includes Henry County and Martinsville as well as Pittsylvania, Patrick and Halifax counties and Danville — attract companies that will create new jobs, she said.


“We want to make a statement that our region’s workers are career ready,” Brown said. She said that a regional emphasis, as opposed to local emphasis, is necessary because in today’s working world, people move around a lot.


She did not know how many Henry County and Martinsville residents already have earned career readiness certificates. However, she said about 48,000 people statewide have earned a Virginia-specific certificate.


Thirty-four Southside employers are participating in a program to help at least some of their employees try to earn national certificates.


Of those, 12 are in Henry County and Martinsville. They include Memorial Hospital and RTI International Metals, Brown said.


Those 34 firms are to gauge whether they think employees having career readiness certificates is worthwhile. Their feedback will help determine how much the certificate program is pushed in the future, according to Brown.


She emphasized that the program is being pushed now as a way of helping employers meet their recruitment needs.


Also, in order for Southside to become a Certified Work Ready Community, 250 businesses, including 55 in Henry County and Martinsville, must show support for the certificate program, whether or not they have encouraged their employees to earn certificates, Brown said.


Southside is the first region in the nation to pursue Certified Work Ready Community status. Elsewhere, it has been done on a statewide level.

By Mickey Powell - Bulletin Staff Writer, Martinsville Bulletin