Counties working to create edge in competitive workforce through certification process

Several counties in our area are working to stand out when it comes to economic opportunities. Ballard, Marshall, and McCracken counties are working toward a Kentucky Work Ready Community certification. Carlisle and Hickman counties are applying for Kentucky Work Ready Community in Progress status.

The certification assures employers that the local workforce has the talent and skills necessary to staff existing jobs and can master the technology new ones will bring.

Kentucky is the third state to establish Work Ready Communities. They say it’s a way to market the state against others when companies are thinking of relocating.

Tonight the McCracken County Fiscal Court approved the resolution to become a Kentucky Work Ready Community. Paducah Chamber of Commerce President Sandra Wilson says community support is required to qualify.

“It’s a great program that has been introduced in Kentucky, and we’ve been working on it for quiet some time. We were designated as a Work Ready Community in Progress and now we’re ready to file our certification,” Wilson said.

Since the program started about three years ago at least 26 counties have become Work Ready Communities in Progress. That means they haven’t met all the criteria, but are on the right track. At least 17 counties out of 140 are considered Work Ready Communities.

“We really feel like it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate how Paducah and McCracken County really wants to grow. How we have a workforce ready for own businesses and for business that might be looking to relocate here. These are usually higher tech companies, things that would really be beneficial to our community. So, we just want to have that status,” Wilson said.

The application looks at six things.

  • Graduation rate of at least 88 percent, with the plan to raise it to 98 percent by 2022.
  • A plan to increase the number of working people holding a National Career Readiness Certificate to 9 percent in three years and 15 percent within five years.
  • Community commitment, meaning working with school districts, economic developers, elected officials, educators, workforce developers and the business and industry.
  • The percentage of working-age (25-64) adults with at least a two-year degree must be at 25 percent with a plan to increase to 32 percent within three years (Kentucky average) and 39 percent within five years (national average), must present a plan to reduce the percentage of adults without a high school diploma or GED by 3 percent points in three years and 5 percent points in five years
  • Then they look at how they’re preparing the future workforce. Making sure high school students learn soft skills such as attendance/punctuality, communication, teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, etc.
  • High-speed Internet service must be available to 90 percent of housing units.

“So locally, it’s a real joint effort. We have all the school systems involved, we have the community college, Murray State, and then the Purchase Area Development District [as well as the University of Kentucky],” Wilson said.

This is only a status to give communities a leg up when economic opportunities show up it doesn’t guarantee jobs. There aren’t any monetary incentives from the state, but it also doesn’t cost anything to apply.

Paducah city commissioners plan on passing a resolution in support Tuesday as well. On Thursday, the chamber’s Business Education Partnership is hosting a community kick-off for Paducah McCracken County becoming a Work Ready Community. It’ll be from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Baptist Health Paducah.

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