Daviess County's Work Ready Community initiative now includes "soft skills" certification for high school students
Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, July 12, 2012

New soft skills certification ready for high school seniors
By Joy Campbell

A new Soft Skills Certification for high school seniors is ready for implementation in all public and Catholic high schools this fall, Helen Mountjoy, executive director of the Regional Alliance for Education, told the Green River Area Development District board of directors Wednesday.
The certification is part of Daviess County's Work Ready Community Certification initiative and responds to employers' ongoing issues with new hires.

Daviess County was the first county to earn the state's Work Ready Community Certification. Henderson County also has earned the certification, and the other five counties in the GRADD — Hancock, McLean, Ohio, Union and Webster — are working to achieve it.

To become certified, counties must meet the state's criteria in six areas: high school graduation rate, National Career Readiness Certificate holders, community commitment, educational attainment, soft skills development and digital literacy. The state program was adopted by the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board and the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet.

"The Soft Skills Certification is important to the region because it focuses on the kinds of things that attract stable employers and ensures a well-educated and well-trained work force," Mountjoy said.

Pam Wilson, dean of community and economic development for Henderson Community College, also discussed Henderson County's Work Ready Community initiatives.

Daviess County now is trying to put in place all the elements its leaders promised in February when it earned the Work Ready Community status.

One of those elements, Soft Skills Certification, is based on a lot of research and responds to continuing concerns from businesses and industries.

"What I hear employers talk about has more to do with the way employees conduct themselves," Mountjoy said. "They tell me that they don't come to work, that they don't come to work on time, they can't get along with team members, they won't accept responsibility, and when they do show up, they fuss and fight. And they want to know right away when they can take a vacation and about promotions," Mountjoy said.

Employers said they want job candidates to have a record of responsibility — a signal that they have conducted themselves responsibly, she said.

After local research involving representatives of local businesses and industries, superintendents and other community leaders, the alliance has put together the criteria for the certification — a set of objectives and standards for students who earn it. Some of those are: no more than two unexcused absences and two unexcused tardy occasions; no discipline issues; a grade point average of at least 2.5 in the senior year with no failures; and coursework and/or participation in other programs that demonstrate soft skills.

The soft skills certification can be a record for students to help them get through the door for a job interview, and it can be a signal to employers that those applicants who have the record meet some of their basic requirements, Mountjoy said.

Now, the alliance needs city and county government, GRADD and businesses and industries to step up and say they will use this certification, she said.

"If it doesn't mean anything to employers, then it won't mean anything to students," she said.

Jiten Shaw, GRADD's executive director, said that agency will sign on to use the soft skills certification.

Mountjoy said after the meeting that parents of high school seniors will receive letters about the certification providing more information and urging them to support their students in achieving it. More details also will be shared with the community later, she said.

Henderson County has expanded a Soft Skills Program developed five years ago for a major employer to use with new hires, Wilson said. It soon will be used as a pilot for the public.

The county also implemented a program in which all seniors may earn a $1,000 per semester scholarship to HCC if they meet established criteria that includes taking more classes than required to graduate and graduating within eight semesters. In 2013, the county will see its first graduating class. This fall, 450 students still qualified for the scholarships.

Through businesses, individuals and community groups, about $2 million has been raised for the scholarship program, and another half-million-dollars is in the pipeline. "We're on our way to sustainability," Wilson said.

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