At last week’s Chamber’s Luncheon, Chief of Staff from the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development Jeffrey T. Ledford presented Gilmer County with a $10,000 grant from the state to continue the Work Ready Program. To achieve this status, the county recently met the two primary qualifications for the grant: 1) The state issued 592 Work Ready certificates to the county 2) Gilmer’s high school graduation rate increased from 73.9 to 87.9 percent. The presentation could not have come at a better time, providing encouragement for the County’s gasping economy.
Anyone new to the county will notice the galleries of empty store fronts in strip-malls and buildings bandaged with For Lease signs, evidence of a wounded economy, expected to fall soon into another recession. Along Main Street in Ellijay, store fronts are littered with For Sale signs and at several businesses in the last few months have closed its doors. County taxes are on the rise more and more in Ellijay and other areas of the county seem like ghost-towns. But, can the Work Ready program help the county?
Initiated by Governor Sonny Purdue in 2006, the Work Ready Program is designed to improve job training and marketability. The idea of the program is to pair “the right jobs with the right people.” Work Ready is a certificate based program where those seeking employment take an assessment test. The test assesses skills such as communication skills and business math skills. When job seekers achieve a designated score, they receive a certificate. The highest level is a Platinum certificate, where the individual scores “at least a level 6 in each of the three core areas and has the necessary skills for 99 percent of the jobs.” The lowest level is a Bronze certificate, where the individual scores “at least a level three in each of the three core areas and has the necessary skills for 35 percent of the jobs.” The program also offers training classes to help test-takers improve their scores. The certificates show employers that certificate holders have a specific and optimal skill set and that Work Ready certified applicants have a guaranteed level of skills and are trainable for other, more advanced tasks. The other side of implementing this program is encouraging employers in the county to recognize Work Ready Certificates above other typical credentials. Another component of the Work Ready program is Job Profiling. Here, an outside company is hired to shadow employees in certain industries to isolate specific skills needed for a particular position, which is incorporated into the Work Ready skill-set. According to Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce President Paige Green, the profiling component reduces turnover costs for companies, one of the greatest costs for employers. Locally, The Work Ready program works in conjunction with the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, The Community Economic Development Department at Chattahoochee Technical College, and the Small Business Development Center at The University of Georgia.
For Gilmer County, though, the challenge of the program and receiving the grant money is to bring businesses into the county again and, of course, retaining them