Economic development, Hinds CC aim to make community work ready certified

Published 9:00 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Vicksburg and Warren County have all the assets that are attractive to companies seeking to do business, including officials with the Continental Tire Plant being built in Hinds County, but it needs one more element for a serious economic development program — a trained work force.

And that’s something local economic development and Hinds Community College officials want to change.

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“We live in the best place, I believe in the world,” said Dr. Robin Parker, assistant dean of Career and Technical Education at Hinds Community College.

Parker’s comments came at the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday, which also included a panel discussion about the program.

“We have the logistics for that company to move goods, we had the river, we had the interstate, we had the rail. We needed a way to quantify the people to make sure that we had this number or people who are ready to go to work in your area.”

A few years ago, she said, the college and area communities joined to develop a process to show the companies its residents were ready to work; that they had the basic skills necessary to do a good job for a large company that’s coming in.

The method came from ACT, the company that administers college entrance tests, which has a verification program for communities to become workplace ready.

“The one thing that I equate this to is we want a sign in Warren County that when someone drives in, they say this community values work; this community values people that’s ready to go and do what’s best for the community. That’s what work place readiness does for a community.”

Hinds in January began administering the ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate pass test exam to adult basic education and career-technical education students, as well as to current employees from industry partners.

WIN Job Centers in the three counties, as well as in Madison County, also began administering it to clients in each community who were applying for jobs. Several counties in the state, according to information from Hinds, have already become work ready.

The test has four levels of assessment: bronze, silver, gold and platinum, based on the individual’s knowledge displayed on the test. Parker said the ACT also profiles jobs and can match the level of assessment for each employee with the correct job.

Parker said Hinds is presently participating with Riverwalk Casino on NCRC testing. The program, she said, has improved employee retention by 90 percent.

“If you think about the money that you spend, training someone to do the job and then they’re not successful, you’re going to have to re-spend that money, so that retention definitely impacts the bottom line of that individual business.”

To become cerified, a community must meet three ACT goals involving testing of students, people presently employed and people who are employed.

The workers have to take National Career Readiness certificate pass test, and businesses need to sign on that they support the idea of the county becoming a workplace ready community.

“The assessment test is a way to determine if someone is going to be successful in the workplace and have the basic skills to do the job,” Parker said.

“This can be very beneficial toward your recruiting purposes and retention goals,” said Pablo Diaz, executive director of the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce,  to chamber members. The commission is among several partners on the effort in central Mississippi.

“But, I want you to think about this, too – this will be a standard that any community’s going to be held up to in terms of economic development projects,” Diaz said. “We are going to be asked, ‘Are you a certified community?’ And if you say no, then for a potential project it means we don’t have the data on the workforce to demonstrate how good or not good they are.”

He added the chamber has set a goal of 111 businesses participating in workplace readiness, but only 23 have actually signed on.

“Whether we like it or not, all communities are going to be judged, (and) they’re (businesses) going to look at us and say are you certified or not?” Warren County Supervisor Charles Selmon said.

“If we want jobs to come to Vicksburg, come to the Warren  County area, we have no choice. We have to make our numbers impressive so that the employer can say, ‘I’m going to Vicksburg because their people are ready to work.’

“The botom line is this, all communities need to get behind getting certified, because they’re not looking at Vicksburg and Warren County, they’re looking at the numbers — who’s certified and who’s not. We have to get on board or else.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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