Photo by Sue Watson
Justin Hall introduces the ACT Work Ready program to a crowd gathered at The Apothecary.

County becomes ACT Work Ready

Marshall County will soon be designated an ACT Work Ready community following a meeting of stakeholders to kick off the project Tuesday of last week.

Marshall County has been working to receive the designation for several years. ACT Work Ready certification is being used worldwide to help employers find eligible trainees or employees to get prepared to go to work or to move up the ladder of success, according to Justin Hall, executive director of the Marshall County Industrial Development Authority.

It took years for the county to attract employers who had jobs, and now the impetus is to have local residents to fill these jobs instead of commuting to outside areas, he said.

All sectors of the community – schools, elected officials, and business and industry leaders – are getting behind the county to help students as early as the ninth grade and as late as community college to be ready to go to work.

Many warehousing and distribution jobs do not require skilled labor but they do require soft skills in order to keep those hired, said Melissa McDermott with ASICS, located in the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park.

Three temp agencies screen employees for the warehousing and distribution company, then after a set time the new hire may be offered full-time work. But they often lack the people skills.

Soft skills and life skills are as important. Without that the company sees lots of turnover.

“I’m just really excited about these soft skills,” said Delores Lay, with human resources at ASICS, a sports apparel and sports shoe company. “Soft skills are the missing link for us.”

Many new hires do not know how to deal with conflict at the workplace, Lay said.

“They want to fight. We want them to find a better way,” she said.

“That’s a challenge,” Hall said. “Everyone sees this. It affects investment and job creation. Industry won’t take my word for it (there is ample work for job seekers). They will want to talk to existing HR (Human Resources departments), in industries.”

Sixty percent of all manufacturing jobs are located in north Mississippi’s 27 counties comprising the Mississippi Partnership Workforce area (directed by the Three Rivers Planning and Development District),  Hall said. The four sectors being pushed in the PDD are manufacturing, distribution, healthcare, and IT (Information Technology). Holly Springs, for instance, is designated a Healthcare Zone so there is emphasis on expanding healthcare services and jobs in the area.

Marshall County wants to have available work-ready applicants to go to work as soon as an existing industry announces it is going to expand, Hall said.

Clencie Cotton, with Rust College, noted that today there is an entirely new process for people trying to get into the workforce.

“It’s different than we’ve ever had before,” he said. “We are showing people how to use this system to get from where they are to where they want to go.”

Part of that process involves National Career Readiness Certi­fication or the ACT test before the person makes an application for a job. The test is an industry standard for judging how prepared an individual may be to go to work in non-skilled, skilled or professional environments.

And working adults are also to benefit from the testing.

“We want our employees working in under-skilled jobs to be able to move into better jobs,” Hall said.

Holly Springs Alderman Tim Liddy asked whether any industries have used the NCRC instrument internally.

One industry representative said they are using it to identify people internally who want to move up.

“Lots of companies are using it for hiring, screening (of applicants), and for upward mobility inside the company,” Hall said.

Sarah Sawyer, executive director of the Byhalia Area Chamber Main Street, asked how this instrument is being used in school vocational-technical programs.

Hall said the vo-tech programs give people the opportunity to get engaged early in preparing for the workforce.

Holly Springs School District superintendent Irene Walton said the district is committing to career and technical center training.

Alice Ray, with Parker Racor, asked if people who file for unemployment are offered the opportunity to take the NCRC instrument.

Elizabeth Kriss said that would be the responsibility of the Missis­sippi Department of Employment Security.

Dwayne Casey, with Northwest Community College, said people who apply for unemployment can sign up for the NCRC exam in the same office.

Al Beck asked whether the NCRC is being offered to people who have jobs in order to get a better job.

Hall said that should be a part of the long-range workforce development plan.

He added that the plan is to get students tested first in high school.

“We want to train our students for jobs we have here, not train them to work somewhere else,” he said.

Hall was asked about the new Marshall County Workforce Train­ing Center, now under construction.

The facility is 32,500 square feet, with office space and high tech training in the front, and industrial training in the back. There is a 32-foot-high bay for industrial and distribution job training.

“We will be a one-stop shop and open to any industry in Marshall County,” Hall said.

There are 1,200 new jobs in Marshall County as a result of new industry. The industrial parks have plenty of space to grow with 7,600 acres available.

“We’re finding out we are only as successful as the people we have to work,” Hall said.

Marshall County has its lowest unemployment rate since 2000. But the talent pool must be expanded to keep pace with new jobs.

The poverty rate is down about 10 percent since 2010. Average wages and the median income are coming up.

“We look forward to moving to the next phase,” Hall said. “It’s all about the workforce, the aging workforce and new technology. Testing through the Job Resource Innovation Center, the WIN Job Centers, and putting the score on a resumé – those are positive steps.

“We will be able to show worldwide that we have been tracking workforce readiness. The NCRC standardizes work force preparedness across all industries and states. We are preparing our kids to have something on their resumé.

“The more people we are tracking, when industry is on the verge of making a decision, we can use it as a metric. It evens our odds (of success).”

The way the ACT Work Force Readiness certification works is to certify counties. The municipalities come on board under the county’s umbrella of certification.

Hall said the ACT NCRC instrument will help high school and college-age students and adults looking for employment to get that job they are best qualified for.

Holly Springs South Reporter

P.O. Box 278
Holly Springs, MS 38635
PH: (662) 252-4261
FAX: (662) 252-3388
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