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Organizers of ACT have announced that Jasper County in southwest Missouri, is the first county in the nation participating in the national ACT Certified Work Ready Communities (CWRC) initiative to meet 100 percent of ACT’s criteria goals. An additional 13 Missouri counties were granted “in-progress” status and are on track to become fully certified within two years.
The initiative is a national effort, led by ACT, to provide a framework for states to strengthen economic development using a community-based approach grounded in certifying counties as “work ready.” States award this certification when counties achieve established goals of individuals in the workforce earning the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRCTM) and businesses recognizing, preferring, or recommending the NCRC. States may add additional criteria to their specific initiatives.
A voluntary effort to align workforce and education to meet the economic needs of the state and local communities, the ACT Certified Work Ready Communities initiative began in January 2012 with Missouri as one of the first participating states. Oregon and South Carolina also have multiple counties actively engaged in attaining ACT Certified Work Ready Community status.
“Strengthening Missouri’s already world-class workforce has been a top priority of my administration, so we are extremely proud to be among the first states participating in this initiative,” said Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. “For Jasper County to become the very first ACT Certified Work Ready Community in the nation is another testament to this community’s resilience and its commitment to rebuilding its economy stronger, and smarter, than ever before.”
“Jasper County residents in the emerging, transitioning and current workforce have proven they have the skills employers are looking for,” said Debra Lyons, ACT’s vice president for community and economic development. “The community has really come together to understand and improve the skill levels of the entire workforce. Jasper County clearly has a plan for meeting the needs of business and industry, and they have the workforce data to back it up.”
Jasen Jones, executive director at the Southwest Missouri Workforce Investment Board (WIB) which serves Jasper and six additional counties, credits the accomplishment to the robust relationship that links Jasper County educators, chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations and employers.
“This Work Ready designation can truly help a community transform its economy and gain a competitive advantage in expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses and jobs,” says Jones. He envisions establishing Work Ready Corridors along Interstate 44 and 49 involving a broad swath of southwest Missouri and extending into neighboring states where the NCRC is also recognized and valued.
Susan Adams, director of human resources at one of those Joplin-area companies—Able Manufacturing & Assembly—is a member of the area WIB. She states, “The Work Ready Community status gives our region the opportunity to stand out above other communities. If business leaders are thinking of relocating or expanding their operations—small or large—they can be confident that Jasper County has a certified workforce that is ready, willing and able to go to work.”