Pete McDonald, vice president for economic development at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, said Work Ready as he knew it under Gov. Sonny Perdue has essentially gone away.
“He allocated state funds to support the testing of individuals, particularly unemployed people, and assisting companies with their (job) profiling,” McDonald said.
The Governor’s Office of Workforce Development pumped $200,000 into the program locally. Floyd County was designated as a Work Ready county in December 2009.
By Jan. 31 of this year, 8,064 Floyd County residents had earned a Work Ready Certificate. More than 2,000 professed to be unemployed at the time they received certification.
During the 2011-2012 school year, 553 Floyd County school system students took the Work Ready tests, and 514 received certificates. Most scored at advanced levels, with 116 students receiving gold level certification, 296 getting silver certification and 102 receiving bronze certificates.
Figures were not available from Rome City Schools.
Bartow, Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Gordon, Polk, Whitfield and Walker counties were all among the counties of the Coosa Valley region that received Work Ready designation.
Tricia Pridemore, director of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, said when the federal ARRA expired, so did the funding source of the Work Ready program.
“It was a big program, and we received a great deal of insight into the health of Georgia’s workforce during the five years that it ran,” Pridemore said.
Work Ready assessments are still available through the technical college system, but the state no longer has the funds to pay for them.
“We look to employers to pay for them or a local workforce board,” Pridemore said. “The 20 local workforce boards across the state — they have the capacity to pick up the cost of the test.”
A second aspect of the Certified Work Ready communities project involved micro-grants. They were made available to every county that met testing requirements. Pridemore said grants are still available, but they’re not as big as they used to be.
But the real guts of the Work Ready program, McDonald said, was the ACT Work Keys assessments of reading, math and the ability to locate information.
“We continue to offer the ACT Work Keys system,” McDonald said. “The personal assessments, the job profiles for companies, and we do gap education for individuals. But the individuals have to pay for the testing.”
It takes $40 to pay for the series of assessment tests, and the individual companies pay $2,500 for each job profile that is developed to be able to best match candidates to specific jobs within a plant.
‘One of the best
in the nation’
F&P Georgia, Pirelli, Georgia Power, Suhner, Brugg Cable, Advanced Steel Technology and the Georgia State Patrol use the program. The city of Rome also uses it for hiring their police and firefighters, McDonald said.
Alan Guyatt, plant manager at F&P Georgia, said the Work Ready program has worked well for his company during the last several years. It’s used as one of the qualifiers for hiring and for promotion, he said.
Guyatt also said F&P Georgia used the job-profiling part of the program for four or five of the job classifications inside the plant, which is a supplier to the auto industry.
Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Heather Seckman said the number of certified workers in Floyd County was something that she was able to tout to industrial prospects.
“They would raise an eyebrow,” Seckman said. “In its day, Georgia’s program was considered one of the best in the nation.”
What has happened is that the Work Ready program has returned to its relatively young roots. Pridemore said the program is now focused on three primary criteria: an increase in high school graduation rates, a decrease in absenteeism and post-secondary attainment.
“We’ve changed it to get back to the core tenets of what workforce development is,” she said.
Both the Rome and Floyd County school systems have successfully exceeded the program’s goal of achieving a minimum of a 70-percent graduation rate.
“As somebody who owned a business in this state for nine years, everybody wants to see that educated workforce be able to move on to post-secondary choices,” Pridemore said. “That creates the environment of the workforce development ecosystem that we talk so much about.”
Floyd County used its $200,000 grant to improve graduation rates and increase the number of students who were ready to enter the workforce with Work Ready Certificates.
“As far as we’re concerned we’ll continue to offer the ACT Work Keys system,” McDonald said.