Economic developers say the number-one issue for companies locating anywhere in the U.S. today is the sustainability of a high-quality workforce, a consideration that ranks above infrastructure, tax incentives and labor costs.
To help meet the needs of businesses for qualified workers, South Carolina has partnered in a job training initiative with the testing company ACT that will better match workers with businesses that need them. South Carolina is among four states where ACT is launching its Certified Work Ready Communities Initiative, which involves several tests that measure an individual’s job-related skills.
"The ACT program will give employers a good idea on the work credentials of individuals,” says Elisabeth Kovacs, coordinator of South Carolina’s Certified Work Ready Communities Initiative. “South Carolina has actually been using a similar WorkKeys assessment since 2007, so the ACT initiative takes everything a step further.”
Second in the U.S.
Up until now, the WorkKeys program has been testing potential workers on their skill level in three fundamental components: reading, applied mathematics and locating information via computer.
If workers score low, they can access online tutorials to help them learn the needed skills and information, and can test again later. South Carolina currently ranks second among states for people who have earned Certified WorkKeys Readiness certificates.
“In past four years, more than 160,000 people in South Carolina have gotten their WorkKeys certificates,” says Jim Reynolds, chairman of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and CEO of Greenville-based Total Comfort Solutions, an HVAC company that has utilized WorkKeys for hiring.
“WorkKeys helps both the individuals and businesses. For example, SMI Steel in Columbia has reduced its employee turnover by 50 percent with WorkKeys, because SMI can immediately place applicants in the correct jobs," he says. "The ACT initiative will now expand this process.”
A National Database
For 12 months beginning in February 2012, state of South Carolina officials are being academy-trained in all aspects of the ACT initiative. Once their training is completed, the department will assist all the state's counties in implementing the ACT Certified Work Ready Communities Initiative.
“ACT will create a national database, providing real-time information about South Carolina counties with regard to economic development, recruitment and expansion,” Kovacs says. “The database will present a strong message to industry that South Carolina counties are work ready, so come locate your plant here.”
The bottom line these days, Kovacs says: If a company is going invest in a community for at least 20 years, it wants to know that a sustainable, high-quality workforce is available, one that can constantly improve its skill levels.
“By posting ACT-certified workers on the database, it tells companies that counties in South Carolina are well-trained, and are globally competitive,” she says. “The ACT certification program is a major strategic initiative for South Carolina's economic development.”