By Jeff McCord
In Northeast Tennessee, we have long understood that the prosperity of a region lies in the capability of its people. We have a history of innovative educational initiatives and have lived on the forefront of workforce development efforts that become models for others to follow. Still, it hasn’t gotten any easier. In the face of a demographic bubble that finds baby-boomers retiring while needed job-related skillsets are increasing, there is a gap between what an employer needs and what an individual has to offer. We’re not unique in this situation. Communities across the country report the exact same problem. In our region, we understand the issue better than most. We are doers, and there is a lot being done. Initiatives including pre-employment training programs, hiring fairs, career exploration events, and K-12 outreach are happening across the eight counties of the First Tennessee Development District on a weekly basis. One such initiative is the effort to become a Certified Work Ready Community through ACT, Inc.
The Work Ready Community Certification is a nationally recognized designation that provides evidence that there are strong community partnerships among education, industry, and economic development to strengthen the regional workforce. The initiative leverages the WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) to verify the quality and skill-sets of workers and to determine their levels of work readiness. This system provides measurable data to support the quality of the local labor pool. For employers, the NCRC demonstrates that job seekers have verifiable skills that are essential to the workplace. Many employers in our region already recognize the value of the credential in their hiring process and are actively engaged promoting its use.
The United Ways of Kingsport and Bristol first surfaced the idea of becoming a Work Ready Community, and it was soon taken up by Sullivan County. Sullivan County officially launched its program in May 2016, and since then Carter, Greene, Johnson, Hancock, Hawkins, Unicoi, and Washington have also engaged in the process and will launch programs in July 2017. Employers are integral to the Work Ready Community initiative as well as to obtaining the Work Ready Community designation. If you are an employer, your show of support is needed to achieve the designation. Employers can show their support simply by completing an Employer Support Form at workreadycommunities.org/business/form and indicating that they either “recognize” or “recommend” the NCRC. Employers with 100 or more employees may support all neighboring counties within 25 miles of their location. The employer name will be listed as a supporting employer for each county selected and will help each selected county achieve its employer supporting goals. That’s it. There is no other paperwork or obligation. This is simply an opportunity to continue to help close the skills gap at your company and along the way contribute to the prosperity of our region.
If there is an interest in finding out more about the Work Ready Community initiative in our region or across the country, please go to workreadycommunities.org. If there are specific questions about the initiative or the NCRC, please send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff McCord is chair of the Work Ready Community Initiative in Sullivan County.