All S.C. counties certified as ‘work ready’ by testing group

Cheryl Stanton is executive director of the Department of Employment and Workforce. File

A national testing group says each of South Carolina’s 46 counties is “work ready,” based on their high-school graduation rates and test takers’ career assessment scores.

The state Department of Employment and Workforce said last week that Richland and Jasper counties have cleared the hurdles to be named “work ready communities” by ACT Inc., rounding out the state’s total. South Carolina is the first state to have each of its counties certified.

The designation is based on the National Career Readiness Certificate assessments written by ACT, which is better known for its college entrance exam. To become certified, counties had to have a certain number of people earn a certificate and recruit businesses to endorse the program. They also had to hit a high school graduation rate of more than 73 percent, or show improvement.

The program costs the state $500,000 a year, said Cheryl Stanton, executive director of the workforce department. It’s meant to quantify South Carolina workers’ skills in an effort to lure new employers. Companies looking to move here, the thinking goes, can use the test scores to vet possible workers.

“It tells employers who are here and want to come here that South Carolina has a skilled, work-ready workforce,” Stanton said.

The state joined the ACT initiative in 2012, but it has pushed the program harder in recent years: High school juniors are required to take the career assessment, a push that started in the 2014-15 school year. It’s also offered elsewhere, including employment offices and adult education centers.

“The business community has made clear that having a skilled and highly trained workforce is the most critical piece of the puzzle for them in today’s highly competitive business environment,” Ted Pitts, president of the Columbia-based S.C. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “Being the first fully certified work ready state in the nation is a big deal.”

Reach Thad Moore at 843-937-5703 or on Twitter @thadmoore.