In recent months, Morehouse Parish has moved closer to attempting to create a documented and certified workforce. The key to this documented workforce is the National Career Readiness Certificate, testing for which is offered at multiple locations in Morehouse Parish and the larger Northeast Louisiana area.
"I think it is important for people in the community to be prepared to take the test," Kay King, CEO of the Morehouse Economic Development Corporation, said, "so when a major employer comes into the area we are prepared and can score high."
King also emphasized that focusing on obtaining a good education will also help students prepare for testing if an employer comes in, such as Drax Biomass, that requires the certificate.
The NCRC is awarded by ACT, Inc., the same non-profit organization that administers the ACT college readiness assessment. According to ACT.org, the NCRC is a portable credential — able to move from state to state and be recognized — that demonstrates achievement and a certain level of workplace employability skills in three core areas: applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information.
However, additional assessments that focus on other competencies are available through ACT, Inc.
ACT also has a website that allows states or counties to register to become Work Ready Communities by setting goals that meet a set baseline established by ACT.
To register an effort to become a work ready community at the county-level in the 2014 application cycle, a county-wide leadership team must be formed and an application submitted by mid-July. Team members needed for the application include representatives from local government, economic development, community or technical colleges, a workforce agency, business and K to 12 education.
Because of the July 15 deadline, Henry Cotton, who is consulting with North Louisiana Community Enhancement Corporation on the NCRC program, and Minister Payne Montgomery, appeared at the June 12 meeting of the city council and at the July 1 school board meeting to obtain support for the initiative.
NLCEC offers testing for the NCRC — the WorkKeys assessment — as well as preparation for the test through the KeyTrain program, which is also owned by ACT.
Other testing sites in the parish include the Morehouse Business and Careers Solution Center, which is located in the old unemployment office on Holt Street, and Louisiana Delta Community College at both Bastrop and Monroe.
According to Theresa Parker, Workforce Development Coordinator at LDCC, the schools test the three basic assessments on a computer, ACT accepts the test data automatically and, if a certificate is earned, ships it to the school for the student.
LDCC also offers access to the KeyTrain system and will create a log-in that allows students to access the test prep software from any computer. However, the students must take the assessments on-site under the supervision of a proctor — this is true at all testing locations.
Parker also said that LDCC uses the test as an exit exam for process technology students. LDCC has a contract with Drax Biomass to test potential employees, at Drax's expense, who are not yet certified. She also related, as did Cotton in his comments at the school board meeting, that Angus Chemical Company in Sterlington had employees take the assessments.
At the Morehouse Business and Careers Solution Center, the assessments for a NCRC are also offered to individuals if an employer needs it.
"Most of the time we only give the test if an employer makes it a requirement," Summer Clark, youth coordinator at the center.
The center maintains a testing lab with eight computers that are used for a variety of assessments and is a proctor location. It is preferred that individuals call ahead to schedule a test time to ensure space is available in the lab.
At all testing locations, taking the actual assessment carries a fee — just like one must pay a fee to take the ACT test.
Training for the test could also be offered at Bastrop High School in the future. At the July 1 school board meeting, the concept of an integrated ACT and WorkKeys course was mentioned, and it was also revealed that students who score at the silver or gold level will provide BHS with points on the school performance score that are the equivalent of those awarded for a student scoring an 18 on the ACT.
President Mike Stephens said at the meeting that many corporations now require the certificate, and that if applicants don't have it, they need not apply.
At the meeting, the school board approved a resolution to support the Work Ready Communities initiative and to place representatives of the school district on the panel.
A presentation at the June 12 Bastrop City Council meeting ended in much the same way. The council conceded a resolution of support and tabled any discussion of monetary support until the next meeting.
A meeting of the county-wide leadership team will be held on Monday, July 14 at City Hall in Bastrop in the court room. The public is invited to attend. A time for the meeting will be published in the community calendar before it takes place.