UNION COUNTY — The effort to develop a skilled, trained, and experienced workforce that will be attractive to both new and existing industry is moving forward through the Union County Workforce Summit Program.
The summits, which are held on a quarterly basis, were initiated in 2015 by Union County Supervisor Frank Hart who said their purpose would be to “discuss and identify ways in which we can improve collaboration, cooperation, and coordination of workforce development efforts in Union County.” Hart said this was important because “the availability of a skilled, trained workforce is a major factor in the process of recruiting new industry and retaining existing industry.” He further pointed out that “many different institutions and agencies play a key role in the workforce development process.”
Since the first Workforce Summit on March 30, 2015 at the SCWorks office on Main Street in downtown Union, the summits have had the participation of a number of local and area educational, employment, business, and government agencies. The most recent summit was held Thursday at the Union Campus of Spartanburg Community College and included reports from the committees that are dealing with the various aspects of developing the county’s workforce.
“We have developed three committees,” Union County Workforce Development Director Katherine Pendergrass said Monday. “There is the Strategic System for Individual Services Committee, the Hard Barriers Committee, and the General Community Awareness Committee.”
Pendergrass, who chairs the summits, said that the purpose of the committees is to develop methods and processes that will help realize the goals set by the summit participants. Among those goals are the development of a simplified and seamless process that would allow the staffs at agencies involved in employment and other workforce-related issues to work together much more closely and easily.
Another goal is to help Union County residents find employment and provide them with the assistance that meets their specific needs.
“The (Strategic System for Individual Services) committee developed an assessment form that will allow us to do a brief assessment on a person seeking a job,” Pendergrass said. “The assessment will enable us to find out the person’s history, interests, skills, and background. Once that information is known we will know what the next step for them is.”
Pendergrass said the goal of helping Union County residents find employment, includes helping those facing what she called “hard barriers” to getting a job. She said those hard barriers can be anything from a lack of education and training to a past criminal record, barriers that she said the Hard Barriers Committee is working to develop policies to address, a process she said the Strategic System for Individual Services Committee is also assisting in with the development of the assessment form.
The General Community Awareness Committee seeks to promote awareness in the community of the services available to the public regarding employment issues. The committee’s efforts resulted in the “United We Serve” program at SCWorks Tuesday evening which brought together a number of local and area agencies, each of which provided information about the services they offer.
Pendergrass pointed out that the effort to develop the kind of workforce Union County needs to attract new industry and retain existing industry got a boost recently when the SC Department of Employment and Workforce announced that the county had achieved “Work Ready Community” status. The county’s achievement of that status is the result of a process that began in 2013 when a coalition of local education institutions, state agencies, and local industries began working together to achieve it.
Work Ready Community status means the county’s workers have the necessary skills to fill existing jobs and master skills required by new ones. The designation gives the county a competitive edge in attracting new industry and sustaining and growing existing industry.
The achievement of that status was based in part on Work Keys testing and the percentage of students and adults who have acquired Work Keys certification. Those undergoing Work Keys testing are tested in the areas of Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Soft Skills. The four levels of certification are Bronze, which covers 16 percent of all jobs; Silver, which covers 67 percent; Gold, which covers 83 percent; and Platinum, which covers 99 percent.
Each county that undertakes the Work Ready Community process is required by law to have a certain number of persons pass those tests. Union County’s goal was 411, but a total of 673 local residents passed, enabling the county to not only meet but exceed its goal.
Of those that attained Work Keys certification, 222 achieved Bronze, 357 Silver, and 83 Gold.
Pendergrass said that the achievement of Work Ready Community status is an important step in the county’s efforts to develop a workforce that will give it an edge in recruiting and retaining industry. She said the next step is to building on that success through a continuous process of maintaining and improving the county workforce, a step that she said is in keeping with the goals Hart announced when he initiated the Union County Workforce Summit Program. Its an effort she said the summit, its members, and its committees are working towards.
“He realizes that in order to attract new industry and retain existing industry we have to be able to show that we have a strong, ready, and viable workforce,” Pendergrass said. “We really want to ensure that Union County has this stronger workforce and that is what we are working to achieve.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.