updated Dec. 22
Twenty-two of South Carolina’s 46 counties are certified Work Ready Communities as of Thursday.
Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill and Lt. Gov.-elect Henry McMaster joined Department of Employment and Workforce Director, Cheryl Stanton, Commerce Department Secretary, Bobby Hitt and Workforce Investment Board chairman, Mikee Johnson in announcing 18 newly certified counties.
Clarendon, Colleton, McCormick and Saluda counties had previously been certified. The newly certified counties are Abbeville, Allendale, Anderson, Bamberg, Beaufort, Berkeley, Cherokee, Dorchester, Edgefield, Fairfield, Florence, Greenwood, Laurens, Marlboro, Newberry, Pickens, Sumter and Williamsburg.
The program is a joint initiative of Gov. Nikki Haley and the college-readiness testing organization, American College Testing. Its goal is to prepare the local workforce with skills needed to meet employers’ demands.
Hitt said a suitable location and a skilled workforce are the two main ingredients businesses seek prior to locating in the state.
The state’s remaining 24 counties are in the process of becoming certified.
Commerce Department spokeswoman, Allison Skipper said by phone that each county is making the right strides to create a skilled worker pipeline for the future. “[Certification is] critical to showing we’re moving the needle in our workforce development,” she said.
No public money was granted to implement the program. Certified counties use WorkKeys testing—a job skills assessment—to match job seekers to available openings.
Criteria counties must meet before qualifying include meeting or exceeding goals in National Career Readiness Certificates, which are based on the number of WorkKeys certifications and which vary based on the county’s size; a three-year average graduation rate of 73.1; soft skills—or communication skills; and receiving local business support.
More than 66,000 people have become certified under the Work Ready Communities program, according to SCDEW. And nearly 2,000 businesses in the state support the initiative. Employers help shape certification under the program based on the credentials and skills they want their employees to have.
Nine other counties nationwide have certified. Kentucky, Missouri and Oregon are the other pilot states for the national program, which was implemented in South Carolina in 2012.
“Counties of all sizes are catching on to the effectiveness of the Work Ready program and realizing that certification allows each area to market itself to new and existing businesses and ultimately results in more jobs for South Carolinians,” said Stanton in a previously prepared statement.
McGill credited Haley with the state’s successful job growth—more than 56,000 jobs since she first took office in 2011, according to a fact sheet her office released in June. Haley did not attend.
Unemployment in Clarendon, Colleton, McCormick and Saluda counties was 13.7 percent, 11.3 percent, 12.6 percent, and 7.4 percent, respectively in 2012, the year the program began. Those four pilot counties saw unemployment rates of 8.9 percent, 6.8 percent, 8.5 percent, and 5.2 percent, respectively last November. The state unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, unchanged from the previous month.
SCDEW was unable to give an estimate Thursday of how many people earned jobs as a direct result of the program. The primary goal for the certified communities is to create a skilled worker pipeline, according to the agency.