LAURINBURG — Scotland County has been certified as an ACT Work Ready Community by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.
The new designation came during a celebration luncheon at The Bagpiper Restaurant at Scotland High School on Thursday where NC Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Manager Meaghan Lewis presented the certification to city, county and school officials along with members from the Laurinburg/Scotland County Chamber of Commerce who were in attendance.
“Scotland County has demonstrated its commitment to work-force readiness, well surpassing their goals for certification with over 1,600 career-readiness certificates awards and over 44 employers signing on to recognize the certificates,” said Lewis. “Being a Work Ready Community signals to businesses that there are workers in the county with the foundations skills to make their business a success,” said Lewis. “The end result is more skilled and employed workers, more profitable and prosperous businesses, healthier communities and a secure future for North Carolina.”
The goals Scotland County had to meet in order to become certified included having a certain percentage of the available workforce who are emerging, high school juniors and seniors or college students and recent graduates; current workforce, people who are currently employed; and the transitioning workforce which is being work are unemployed, participating in adult education or are active duty military.
The county is considered a medium community, with 30,000 to 99, 999 residents, and needed to have 131 people in the emerging workforce category, 44 in the current and 334 transitioning workforce category. Scotland County well surpassed those goals with 910 emerging employees, 181 currently employed and 540 transitioning.
The goal of the WorkKeys program is to close the skills gap and improve the quality of the students entering the local workforce. Employers, like Service Thread and 42 other businesses in Scotland County, recognize the Career Readiness Credentials, and have committed to hiring local students and adults that have completed the pro gram.
The program allows students at Scotland County schools to complete three WorkKeys assessments — Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information — which helps them earn the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), showing they can complete these essential work skills.
Service Thread CEO Jay Todd talked about how he partnered with Richmond Community College to have his employees participate in the program.
“We tested our workforce to see if they had the skills they needed to be successful at this job. We found in our company that 49 percent of our employees didn’t have the skills they needed to be successful,” Todd said. “One of our operators came to me at the beginning of the program and said ‘I’m so worried; I don’t want to lose my job.’ The fear was we were testing people to get rid of them. We just wanted to see where we are and make the company better. Today two percent of our employees are below the skill level they need to be. We’ve seen decreased turnover; we’re expanding our business, and we’re producing products that we couldn’t before. It all really started with this program.”
Todd said the fearful employee ended up going to Richmond Community College and received her adult high school diploma at 62 years old.
“It was such a proud day. She brought it to work, and we celebrated,” Todd said. “It goes to show that this touches not just the community but the individual. You may not think what you’re doing has the ability to change a life, but if you can do that and this a great way to do that, it’s such a reward. You often hear there are no jobs in Scotland County, I’ve said it many times, and I’ll say it again. There are plenty of jobs in Scotland County, the jobs are here we need to help our workforce be the ones to take those jobs, and we’re leading the charge.”
Scotland County students are being certified before graduation and using those skills to gain a leg up in their careers, something Superintendent Ron Hargrave finds refreshing, everyone in the community working together.
“This is a reflection of what a community can do when we join together and set our minds to accomplish something. This didn’t happen because one person made the decision and did all the work, it happened because we came together as a community,” said Hargrave. “It’s so refreshing to work in a community where community means all of us working together. This is such a wonderful thing that our students can be part of and then give back to the community through them working and serving in a Work Ready community.”
Richmond Community College President Dale McInnis said good things can happen when business and education leaders work as partners.
“This is what happens when good people work together to do things as a team. I’m excited about the future, because we can build on this,” said McInnis. “This is a legacy that everyone can take to those folks that want to throw rocks, want to say bad things and complain but don’t want to offer any solutions. Good things are happening in Scotland County, and good people are working to make it happen, and we’re going to leave those others behind so they complain to each other. This is just the beginning.”
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.