Local leaders gathered Tuesday to celebrate Callaway County's recognition as a Certified Work Ready Community.
"It took a lot of help," Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said of the process.
For the last 2 1/2 years, he and others in the community have worked to achieve the work-ready status as part of the Missouri Certified Work Ready Communities initiative. County Economic Development Director Bruce Hackmann and Callaway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tamara Tateosian were among those closely involved in the process.
State Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said the state needs to emphasize workforce development. He also serves as vice chairman of Missouri's Workforce Development Committee.
"Our economy needs workers that are prepared," he said.
That's the goal of the certified work-ready program. One of its main focuses is preparing students to enter the workforce. That readiness is evaluated through the ACT WorkKeys test, Jungermann said.
"It's another tool that counselors will be able to work with in schools," he added.
After taking the test, which is a variation on the ACT with a focus on practical, trade-oriented skills, individuals receive a score and are assigned a bronze, silver, gold or platinum certification. This indicates to employers the certified individuals are knowledgeable and are likely to be good employees.
Fulton Public Schools Superintendent Jacque Cowherd said 35-40 high school seniors took the test last year.
"Optimistically, it gives an assessment of where they are academically and the future," he said. "Hopefully, we can get those kids to return to Callaway County (to work)."
Another facet of the program is getting local employers involved. A certain number must pledge to recognize the work-ready certification (earned by taking the WorkKeys) for the county to receive recognition.
More than 40 local employers have signed up, including Callaway Electric Cooperative, AZZ/Central Electric, Backer's Potato Chip Co., Danuser Machine Company, Henderson Products Inc., Mid-America Precast, the Ovid Bell Press, The Callaway Bank, Fulton State Hospital, Missouri School for the Deaf and others.
"This is not easy," state Sen. Jeannie Riddle, R-Mokane, said. "If this was easy, all 114 counties in Missouri would have it. Currently, less than half do."
She said the certification takes a lot of initiative on the part of local leaders to complete.
"It's a good day to be a Callawegian," she said.
This isn't the end of Callaway County's efforts to improve its workforce readiness, Tateosian said, as the drive to reach students will continue — Fulton High School is host a college and career fair for students at 5:30 p.m. today.