Certifying Southeast Missouri and beyond
Retaining a talented workforce and then marketing that strength to prospective and current employers is the optimal goal for economic developers. And a tool created by ACT helps Missouri and a handful of other states achieve that goal.
Missouri was among the first four states chosen for the ACT Certified Work Ready Leadership Academy and the very first state with a Certified Work Ready Community (CWRC), Jasper County. The CWRC is a voluntary effort guided by county leaders (local elected officials, educational partners, local workforce, chambers of commerce, and local employers) all working together to enhance economic development.
By utilizing the ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate, a system that uses a set of standardized tests designed to identify strengths in workplace competencies (math, reading, and locating information), communities can qualify and quantify their emerging workforce (those graduating from high school, college or tech school), transitioning workforce (unemployed looking for employment), and current workforce (those employed).
Many rural communities in Missouri find this tool to be crucial in growing new jobs locally and keeping area graduates in the state. In fact, two of Missouri's four certified communities are located in the southeast region of the state. Community leaders in Butler and Ripley Counties have worked tirelessly to achieve their new status and full certification by ACT and the State of Missouri, making them among the first in the nation to obtain this distinction.
Butler County's success was largely due to their dedicated effort to recruit local employers to become partners. The largest employer in the area, Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center, vowed to become a partner on the project and the program took off from there. The local chamber of commerce also stepped up by funding certificates for many in the emerging workforce. In order to achieve certification, Butler County needed to have 73 employers commit, and the workforce earn 254 certificates. Butler far surpassed its goal and recruited more than 90 employers and their workforce received 372 certificates.
As result of Butler's enthusiasm, neighboring Ripley County began benefiting from the crossover in certified residents and was soon on its way to earning certification. Ripley's team leaders established strong partnerships with local non-profits to help spread the word and meet their goals. Combined, the two counties have successfully recruited 115 businesses and 476 of their residents are certified as "work ready" and can begin marketing their skills to current and prospective employers.
Steve Halter, the President of the Greater Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce and Chair of the Butler County Certified Work Ready Community, said, "We always knew we had a good workforce, but now we have something to back that statement up and can let every employer know it."