As state leaders point to the Coastal Empire as the launching point for any economic recovery in Georgia, Effingham County may have taken a step forward in being prime position.
County and state officials celebrated Effingham County’s newly-minted status as a Work Ready Community on Thursday morning at the Effingham Career Academy.
“It’s a great day for Effingham County,” said Effingham Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry, one of the members of the Effingham Work Ready team. “Work Ready status demonstrates to the world and potential industries that we can provide a qualified workforce.”
Being a Work Ready Community shows there is a workforce that can fill the jobs available now and can be trained to take on jobs in the future, according to Savannah Technical College President Dr. Kathy Love.
“More and more folks I talk to agree the recovery from the recession in this state is going to start in coastal Georgia,” said state Sen. Jack Hill. “We’re in the center of what I think is going to be a bright future for the state. These sorts of things give us the tools to recruit with and give us what we need to convince industry we’re the place to locate.”
To Gina Gerrald, Work Ready has taken on a more personal meaning. She left high school when she turned 18 and got her GED two years ago, having worked waiting tables and being a stay-at-home mother. She’s now the office manager at Katie McGrory’s Play Therapy.
Gerrald began volunteering at the United Way of Effingham County and was goaded into taking the Work Ready test by United Way Executive Director Bonnie Dixon.
“For me, today in itself is a dream come true,” Gerrald said “To lot of a people, the Georgia Work Ready certificate is just a test. To me, it’s a certificate of knowledge and confidence — knowledge because it is proof that I am capable and confidence because it’s proof I am capable. To an employer, the test is confirmation that I am able to actually of doing the task at hand, no matter what the task is, even though I don’t have a degree or a diploma.”
The county’s Work Ready push started three years ago. Work Ready Georgia began in 2006 when the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development was created to improve job training and workforce marketability. The Work Ready program is a voluntary assessment that measures skills employers consider to be critical for success.
Effingham County earned 1,285 Work Ready certificates, topping its goal by more than 190 percent. Along with the testing, the county also had to improve its high school graduation rate, which has risen from 74.2 percent to 81.7 percent.
“This is a significant milestone,” said Dinah King of Georgia Power, the Work Ready team chairman.
The Work Ready team identified gaps in the community’s knowledge base and developed an action plan to address it.
“It took a lot of effort from a lot of folks,” King said.
There are now 102 Work Ready communities across the state. As a Work Ready community, Effingham County gets a $10,000 grant to help further workforce development.
“You have demonstrated your commitment to improving high school graduation rates and in assuring you will have the workforce business and industry demands in a global, competitive marketplace,” said Chris Baucom of the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development.
Said Effingham School Superintendent and outgoing Chamber of Commerce President Randy Shearouse: “We’re excited to be a Work Ready community. Having a high graduation rate is so important.”
King took over the helm of the Work Ready team from Leland Sanders, who had to re-locate for a job. She thanked Sanders for his initial efforts and also expressed her gratitude to Savannah Technical College for its assistance.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help,” she said.