Union R-XI School District officials want the district to do its part to ensure graduates are ready for the work force.
The board voted unanimously Monday, March 18, to endorse the Certified Work Ready Community (CWRC) program for Franklin County, a program initiated through ACT that will attract, retain and develop a work force with the education and foundational skills to succeed in the 21st century.
“This is a statewide initiative that works through ACT work teams, to identify that we do have a good work force,” Superintendant Steve Bryant said. “When (people from) economic development try to get businesses to come to our area, they can say they have a good work force, but they really don’t have any data to truly back that up. If we can get this going, it will arm them with some data to tell them what we actually have.”
The goal of the program is to develop and document the skills of the current and future work force to benefit job seekers and employers, and strengthen economic development efforts in the region.
“This is the first time we’ve had collaboration between higher education, business and industry and everything in between,” Bryant said.
Work Ready Certification
One aspect of the program is the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). Students are tested and awarded certification at different skill levels, from level three, bronze, to level six, platinum. At each level, the testing gets progressively more difficult.
“They will test individuals for their ability to read for information, for their applied math skills and their ability to locate information,” Bryant said. “It will give them the credentials they need and give them a step up.”
Students also would be tested for real world skills, such as work discipline, attitude, productivity and dependability, teamwork, communication, customer service orientation, organization, interpersonal skills, perseverance, managerial potential, persuasion, problem solving and even enthusiasm.
“When we’re getting kids prepared for whatever path they may choose, those are all the skills and attributes we would want them to have,” said Justin Tarte, director of curriculum and instruction. “These tests are going to be a pretty good predictor of that.”
High School Principal Doug Cuneio said those basic skills are 21st century skills that should be taught in each and every classroom at the high school.
“We should already be doing that in our curriculum,” he said. “If we’re not, then we have a real issue.”
The district isn’t going to require students take the test, but presently it is available to them at no cost.
Missouri is one of only seven states currently participating in the CWRC program. Gretchen Pettet, executive director of work force development for East Central College, said Franklin County received approval on its application to participate in the Work Ready project in January.
The state-established criteria for designation as a Work Ready Community is a combination of the number of people attaining the NCRC and the number of businesses, schools, government entities and other organizations that support it.
“We have a goal of 70 on the business end of support and are currently at 23,” Pettet said.
Benefits to Employers
Businesses supporting the program do not necessarily need to require that future and present employees have an NCRC, Pettet said, but it is a key tool that can be used to discern whether prospective employees and those wishing to advance within a company are qualified.
“The letter is not a legal and binding document,” she said. “They can prefer the certification of applicants, much like a business can prefer a high school diploma or college degree.”
Pettit said certification is extremely helpful to businesses in these economic times.
“One example of this is that I heard that there were more than 100 applications submitted for a janitorial position,” she said. “How do you whittle that down? One way is if you had a preference for the certificate. Let’s say you have 15 people who are certified on that level. It can streamline the hiring process.”
Pettit said a Work Force Ready designation could be an important tool that can be used to bring business and industry into Franklin County.
“Industries looking to add a location will send site selectors,” she said. “One of the first questions they will ask is ‘Tell me about your work force.’ The answer is usually, ‘Our work force is very good.’ ”
An NCRC is a vehicle to quantify the work force, Pettit said.
“This is a game changer,” she said. “Usually, the way to attract a business is by giving them a tax abatement, which any school superintendent will tell you is not good for schools because it means fewer tax dollars for schools. School districts don’t like that. This is another way to attract businesses without tax abatement.”
Counties seeking the Work Ready designation have two years to meet the criteria required by the program.
Currently, there are 13 counties in the process of becoming CWRCs and Jasper County, which includes Joplin, has already achieved the designation.
Goals are based on county size and 2010 census information.
Franklin County has achieved 44 percent of its goal, with many businesses and organizations already on board. Union R-XI School District is the first school district, however, to officially declare its support. However, Pettet said she is presenting the program to other Franklin County school districts and is optimistic they will also support the program.