"We had a great foundation with this initiative," Everson said to the college's advisory committee, which includes educators and administrators as well as representatives from the chamber of commerce and department of labor. "Bartow County was one of the first to successfully reach the status of a Certified Work Ready Community, and that credit is attributed to the leadership in this room and those who worked with that initiative to make sure Bartow County achieved that goal."
The Georgia Work Ready program allows communities to show employers the capabilities of their residents by assessing core skills and work habits, providing participants with a certificate designating their ability to qualify for 35 percent to 99 percent of jobs. The assessment is administered by ACT's WorkKeys system.
According to the Work Ready website, "to be designated a Certified Work Ready Community, counties must drive current workers and the available workforce to earn Work Ready Certificates, demonstrate a commitment to improving public high school graduation rates and build community commitment for meeting these goals."
Fred Kittle, chairman of the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce, said various facets of the county worked together in order to make the distinction early on. The county became a Certified Work Ready Community in 2009.
"We knew the Work Ready program was coming in six months and we already formed our teams, we had business and industry jump in, we had the educators, we had the colleges, we had the technical school, we had everybody come together and we were able to [implement the program] at an accelerated rate," Kittle said.
Everson spoke on the role education plays in contributing to the workforce, not only in terms of quality employees, but in terms of drawing business to an area. He said the four most important elements in drawing businesses are education, infrastructure, a competitive corporate tax rate and a qualified workforce.
He said it was important overall for the state to recognize growing job opportunities that don't require students to earn advanced degrees from universities.
"Our school systems are doing a great job, but we are missing the mark," Everson said. "... our system is designed here to challenge every child to go to a traditional four-year institution when that may not be best [for the child]."
Everson said school programs that expose students to technology-based industries are essential in improving the workforce and helping draw industries to the state. He noted, for example, exposing students early to the automotive and healthcare industries -- two programs of study offered at Cartersville High School.
"You know what that [exposure] does? That [exposure] decreases the high school dropout rate because when you tap into what [students] are really interested in, you will see those light bulbs go off, those students will become engaged, and they will turn this thing around," Everson said.
He said the workforce must be prepared to take on the requirements of new industries due to the loss of others during the recession.
"My biggest fear is that in the timeframe we've been in this recession we've lost an unprecedented amount of jobs, and a lot of those jobs aren't coming back, but they will be replaced with jobs that will require new skill sets. Therein lies the problem. Will we have the labor force ready to meet the demands of the jobs that will become available in the 21st century?"