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County prepares push for Work Ready designation

Last week, members of Nicholasville’s education system met with Judge Executive David West, Mayor Pete Sutherland, Magistrate Justin Ray and city commissioners to discuss the final push at the state level to have Nicholasville designated as Work Ready.

The Work Ready Skills Initiative is a $100 million workforce bond program designed to help create a better-trained and modernized workforce in the communities that earn the designation. To be eligible for the program, projects must include the construction or the equipment of a new facility for the purpose of providing workforce training and education in the top five industry sectors, renovation or upgrade of an existing facility and the purchase of new or upgraded equipment, software and furnishings.

Eligible applicants are public-private partnerships including private sector employers and high schools, secondary technical schools or postsecondary institutions. So when efforts in Jessamine County began for the grant-writing process, an encompassing collaboration was necessary from the beginning.

“When we sat down and started talking about this grant process, it became apparent to us that it really needed to be a community-wide effort,” Jessamine Public Schools Chief of Staff Matt Moore said at the meeting. 

“In addition to going after the Work Ready Communities accreditation, we really feel like this has been a time for the Jessamine County community as a whole to really reflect on some of our practices, and it has caused us to refine some of our initiatives and to pick up some of our other efforts,” Moore said.

This is the county’s third time attempting to achieve the accreditation. Moore said that he was confident that Jessamine County would achieve the accreditation this time due to the gains that the county has made over the past three years in particular. Jessamine County public schools took the reigns of the effort in the fall of 2016.

At the meeting, the audience was informed on specific narratives that subcommittees had worked on to increase the county’s eligibility for the accreditation. The first narrative was graduation. Also receiving emphasis is the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which provides work-readiness ratings in the three areas assessed by the ACT WorkKeys: reading and information, locating information and applied mathematics. The NCRC is a tool that allows hiring managers gauge the employability of job applicants.

“We’re not talking about doing algebra or quantum physics here,” said Mary Newton, Director of Adult Education at Jessamine County Adult Education. “We are talking about skills you actually need on the job. Things that employers are finding that a lot of their workers are lacking.”

Other factors to be considered for eligibility will be community commitment, educational attainment—the number of people in the county possessing a two-year degree or better and the number with high school diplomas or equivalency, what is being done for soft skills development and internet availability within the community.

Newton told the audience that the high school graduation threshold that the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet is looking for in the accreditation is 88.9 percent and 98 percent by 2022. Jessamine County has already met the mark with its rate of 89.7 percent. The cabinet wants to see that 25 percent of the county’s residents have earned a two-year degree, 32 percent within three years of application and 39 percent seven years out. Jessamine County currently stands at 38.7 percent. Furthermore, the cabinet wants to see that  90 percent of the county has internet speeds of at least three megabytes per second, and Jessamine County is at 100 percent. Finally, the NCRC requirement is nine percent of the county having the certificate in three years, fifteen percent in seven years. The county is currently at 1.47 percent.

“You can see that for the areas that require a hard benchmark, we’re there,” Newton said. “That’s why we are really excited about submitting this application. We feel like we are going to go in as a certified Work Ready Community instead of a Work Ready Community In Progress.”

According to Newton, there will be an additional informative meeting at the Jessamine County Chamber of Commerce office on May 23 at noon for the business community. In addition, Newton encourages everyone to visit the Work Ready Jessamine Facebook page for information and updates as well.

The proposal package for Jessamine County’s Work Ready designation will be submitted to the Work Force Investment Board in Frankfort on June 15, and the formal ten-minute presentation will be made to the panel on July 11.