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Ballard and Marshall designated Work Ready Communities in Progress.

Governor Steve Beshear has announced that Ballard County and Marshall County have been certified as a Kentucky Work Ready Communities In-Progress. The Kentucky Work Ready Community certification program from Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet assures employers that a local workforce has the talent and skills necessary to staff existing jobs and to master the innovative technologies that new jobs will require.

"We are excited that Ballard County and Marshall County have achieved Work Ready Communities In-Progress status, which is not an easy accomplishment. Community leaders are to be commended for achieving this goal," said Roxann Fry, chair of the Kentucky Work Ready Communities Review Panel and senior consultant for the Tennessee Valley Authority Economic Development.

Each county began the Work Ready Community process in August 2014 by organizing volunteers representing each fiscal court and city governments, school districts, business leaders, economic development corporations, and local chambers of commerce. Regional representatives included staff from Murray State University, West Kentucky Community & Technical College, West Kentucky Workforce Investment Board, and the Purchase Area Development District. The Ballard County effort was led by Mr. John Wood and the Marshall County effort was led Mrs. Wendy Baxter.

Over the course of four months, each county team worked to gather local support and demonstrate that their county met specific criteria for high school graduation rate, National Career Readiness Certificate holders, demonstrated community commitment, educational attainment, soft-skills development, and digital literacy. An In-Progress designation shows that a community is working with its business, education, workforce, and economic development leaders to set and meet common goals that will give the county an economic edge.

Ballard County Judge/Executive Vickie Viniard said, "Ballard County was designated as a Kentucky Work Ready Communities In-Progress because of the excellent work that the Board of Education and our community has done to prepare our current and future workforce. As County Judge/Executive, I want Ballard County to be progressive and competitive, which is why we will continue working toward meeting all the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board's benchmarks, which are very difficult to meet and few counties have achieved."

Ballard County's 23.7% education attainment rate did not meet the required 25% educational attainment rate to be designated as a Work Ready Community and was the only benchmark deficit for the county. Recently, the Ballard County Board of Education has taken a hard look at how they were preparing students for future employment and made changes to their curricula to align with college and career readiness framework. Since those changes have been in place, the Kentucky School Board Association awarded the school system a Public Education Achieves in Kentucky Award, they have been ranked number one in the Commonwealth for College and Career Readiness Points earned, they ranked in the top 6% in the state for high school graduation, and they have seen a 30% increase in student dual-enrollment courses with local postsecondary education institutions.

Marshall County Community & Economic Development Director Josh Tubbs said, "We've been considering pursuing Work Ready Communities designation for a while. We put together an excellent team that helped us organize our application and set goals in place that will allow us to quickly achieve full Work Ready Community designation in the very near future. I appreciate everyone who worked with us on the application because demonstrating that Marshall County has a quality workforce has always been and always will be a top priority for the county."

Marshall County met all the benchmarks required by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board, but the soft-skills credentialing program that the school board recently adopted, will not begin until the fall of 2015. Such programs are required elements of the application. Tubbs anticipates that the county team will spend the next few months demonstrating how the Work Ready Communities program directly connects with economic development goals for the county and making sure more citizens and employers have an opportunity to join in the Work Ready Communities effort.

One of the areas where Marshall County has seen dramatic improvement is the increase of National Career Readiness Certificates (NCRC) earned by citizens. When the county filed its application in December, 283 individuals had earned an NCRC. By the end of January, that number had increased to 437 individuals. The spike in numbers occurred because Marshall County High School encouraged the entire senior class to participate in the assessment, which measures aptitude for work success. Funding for the NCRC assessments was provided by the West Kentucky Workforce Investment Board via an Operation Workforce grant. Companies such as Ashland, in Calvert City, utilize the NCRC as part of their hiring rubric and pre-employment process.

"We wanted our seniors to understand the importance of being both college and career ready," said Brian Harper, Secondary Supervisor for the Marshall County School District. "Earning a National Career Readiness Certificate demonstrates that a student has options. They can easily find employment because they have the aptitude for work success, or they can choose postsecondary education. Either way, they have proven to that they are ready for success."

McCracken County was designated as a Work Ready Community In-Progress in November in 2012. Dr. William Murphy of the UK College of Engineering led that effort and has volunteered along with Sandra Wilson of the Paducah Area Chamber of Commerce to guide a team of volunteers to pursue full Work Ready Community designation. McCracken County now meets each of the required benchmarks. Murphy and Wilson anticipate that McCracken County will complete the process this summer. Along with McCracken County, Work Ready Community teams are being organized in Carlisle County by Judge/Executive Greg Terry and in Hickman County by Judge/Executive Kenny Wilson who are eager to demonstrate the quality of each county's workforce.

For more information about the Kentucky Work Ready Communities program, go to http://workready.ky.gov or contact the Purchase Area Development District at 270-247-7171.


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