Economic Development News

Quality workforce becoming increasingly important to business attraction
Published: Monday, May 26, 2014 9:00 am
By: Missy Bonnot, Director, Economic Development

Recently I participated in a marketing trip to Chicago with the Missouri Partnership, the state’s business recruitment organization and a key economic development partner for communities.

During this trip we met with site selection consultants and real estate executives who work economic development projects. One of the reasons this market is targeted is because there are many consultants and real estate executives in the Chicago area and they work directly with many companies that are looking to expand or relocate.

The three communities that participated, Jefferson City, Kirksville and Poplar Bluff, had an opportunity to discuss the key assets of our communities while hearing from the consultants the trends in economic development and where they are seeing the most activity.  Thankfully, we heard from all consultants that manufacturing is slowly making a comeback and manufacturing projects are on the upswing. Another theme we heard throughout the two-day event is that quality workforce is becoming more and more important to companies.

If you ask 20 people the definition of economic development you would probably get 20 different answers.  The same is true if you would ask the same 20 people the definition of workforce development.  You would get many different answers.

Workforce development is an essential component of community economic development in any economic climate but particularly in today’s world. So what is Jefferson City doing for workforce development in our area?

Representatives from Linn State Technical College, the Missouri Career Center, Jefferson City Public Schools and the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce say Cole County needs a way to quantify a skilled workforce in our area.  The answer is in the Certified Work Ready Community program.  Administered through the Missouri Department of Economic Development, the program was officially rolled out in Missouri in 2012 according to Cheri Tune, DWD Business Representative for the Division of Workforce Development.

“The reason we are working toward this certification is because it would give us the ability to objectively report the strength of our local workforce,“ stated Tune. “For example, when businesses (relocating) are looking at Jefferson City and ask, ‘What skills does your workforce have?' it can be a difficult question to answer. We have a general idea … but to be able to say 68 percent of the local workforce have obtained a Silver level NCRC, etc. then they have a much better understanding.”

In order to obtain this certification, a community must first make application to the Missouri Division of Workforce Development. Secondly, partners must work toward meeting the established goals set forth by the Missouri Department of Economic Development and ACT, Inc. (Goals are the number of job seekers, both emerging & transitioning, who obtain an NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate) as well as the number of businesses engaged in recognizing or supporting the NCRC in their hiring practices. County goals were pre-set based on the 2010 Census.)

Individual candidates are awarded an NCRC by achieving a minimum skill level on the WorkKeys assessment, a product developed by ACT Inc., creators of the ACT college entrance exam. The NCRC is an evidence-based, nationally recognized credential that certifies essential skills important for workplace success.  Certificates are awarded at 4 levels, Bronze, Silver, Gold, & Platinum, based on scores in Applied Mathematics, Reading for Information, & Locating Information.

In Cole County, a total of 612 individuals would need to receive NCRCs. At the present time, 185 individuals have earned the certification. In addition, Cole County has a goal of 117 businesses supporting the NCRC and using the designations as a consideration when hiring. 37 businesses have committed to recognizing or preferring the NCRC’s.

“Utilizing the NCRC makes the hiring process for employers predictable & uniform. It connects Missouri employers with workers who have certified proficiency in basic workplace skills. As an economic development tool, achieving the status of a Certified Work Ready Community tells companies you are serious about supplying them with a quality labor pool. This not only helps our existing businesses to expand, but makes the community more attractive to developers who are looking at Jeff City to locate their business”, Tune said.

Missouri Career Center is working to assist job seekers with obtaining their NCRC’s by administering the WorkKeys test on a regular basis. Job seekers can test free of charge at the Missouri Career Center and are encouraged to contact them first to schedule an appointment. “By achieving CWRC status, it would not only benefit the community, but it also gives our students an advantage over other people entering the workforce,” Shelle Jacobs, Business and Industry Relations Coordinator with Linn State Technical College said. “In today’s job market, every credential that you can earn is so important. The key is to get workers and businesses interested in the NCRCs at the same time.”

The NCRC not only benefits the businesses that recognize it but also benefits those individuals who acquire the certificate. The NCRC is a great way to quantify the basic skill level of our workforce and identify skill gaps that can be alleviated through remediation.  This can make a job seeker more valuable to an employer and gives them an advantage in this tough job market.”

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