It has been reported that the biggest issue, nationwide, hindering businesses’ growth is the inability to find qualified applicants to fill the job. Research shows there is a considerable gap between the skills needed for the job and those possessed by the individuals hired to do that job. In efforts to build a stronger workforce in Iberia Parish, the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, along with partnering agencies and sponsors, has applied to become an ACT certified Work Ready Community, part of a national initiative that equips high school students (and adults) with the necessary skills to succeed in the modern workplace and then links employers with those newly-skilled employees.
Iberia Parish began the process of becoming a certified Work Ready Community last August, and by next August, 1,464 certificates must be issued to meet the criteria. Since the beginning of June, 1,246 have been issued.
The emerging workforce goal - that is the number of students that will be issued certificates - set for Iberia Parish was 786 readiness certificate holders and, as of this writing, there are 893.
The ACT Work Ready Community framework is characterized by helping applicants obtain the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). This is a nationally-recognized credential that is earned by meeting the required scores in three assessments: applied math, locating information and reading for information - identified as necessary in 77 percent of industries and occupations.
The NCRC can be earned at four levels- bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Different occupations require different levels of Work Ready certification. An accountant or bookkeeper position might call for a gold or platinum level certificate, while a receptionist job might require a bronze level. This creates an opportunity for job seekers to identify what skills they need to be competitive and then to receive the necessary training on site.
While adults are welcomed into the program, ACT Work Ready Committee Chair for Iberia Parish Denise Broussard says the majority of the participants are coming from the high schools and are involved in the Jump Start program, an innovative career and technical education program. “The Louisiana Education System is paying for juniors (and as of recent, seniors) to take the Work ready assessment because when students score at the gold or platinum levels it earns the schools grade ratings credit. It’s a win for everyone,” she says.
Job seekers who earn a NCRC have a competitive advantage over other job seekers of similar positions who do not have the certificate. Broussard says an important component of the ACT Work Ready is teaching students how to market the credentials they have earned in their resumes and on interviews.
Employers are gradually catching on that the NCRC documentation has value in recognizing the workplace skill levels of job candidates. Their participation is critical to the program’s success, which is why Broussard and committee members have reached out to employers.
“The aim is to show businesses that Work Ready students offer them a competitive edge and help them better gauge who is suited for open positions,” Broussard says. The program is already working since many employers have reported reduced turnover as the result of having the right people in the right jobs.
Currently, 51 employers in Iberia Parish support the Work Ready initiative, by recognizing and recommending that their applicants have a national career ready certificate. They report that those employees with NCRC have improved their hiring decisions, reduced hiring time, increased employee retention and minimized training time. Broussard adds that NCRC is also an objective tool for promoting employees already in the workplace.
The economic vitality of any city is strongly dependent on a qualified workforce. As past president of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, Broussard says that becoming a Work Ready Community will not only help employees find work and employers find skilled workers, but is a key factor to bringing new business to the area by proving that there is a supply of qualified workers to “fill the payroll.”
For more information, go to iberiachamber.org under programs, ACT Work Ready communities.