Drew County has met all criteria to become a certified ACT Work Ready Community, capping a multi-year certification process and beginning a growth and maintenance phase to retain certification.

“Drew County now joins eight other Southeast Arkansas counties to form the largest contiguous ACT Work Ready region in the state of Arkansas,” said Drew County’s ACT Work Ready Community coordinator, Jerry Bayliss, Jr. “Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties have sent a clear signal to businesses and industries that may be considering locating in our region that Southeast Arkansas is ready to work. We have demonstrated that readiness through this initiative.”

The ACT Work Ready Communities initiative is designed to assist a particular area, region or state in developing its workforce pipeline to provide skilled workers for employers. The framework allows each participating community to quantify and improve the skill levels of its workforce through a standardized workforce skill credential, the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate.

ACT WorkKeys assessments include standardized tests that measure an individual’s essential work readiness skills in applied math, workplace documents and graphic literacy. According to decades of ACT research, these foundational skills are essential for a majority of today’s jobs.

The University of Arkansas at Monticello became actively engaged in the initiative as part of an award to the UAM College of Technology-Crossett from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education Regional Workforce Planning, Implementation and Continuation Grants. The grant opportunities were made possible through the 2015 Workforce Initiative Act, a law intended to create a statewide, comprehensive structure through regional workforce grants to enable students in Arkansas’ universities, community colleges, secondary centers and high schools to participate in career and technical education programs. The programs are developed with input from area employers to address critical workforce skills gaps. The act was sponsored by Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock, Sen. Eddie Cheatham, D-Crossett, and backed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

To begin the certification process, the ADHE Regional Workplace Grant and a supplemental grant from Delta Regional Authority sponsored teams of educators, businesses, and community leaders from each of seven original counties (Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew, and Lincoln) to attend ACTWRC training, an executive leadership and training program designed and hosted by the ACT. The teams worked toward their certification goals by building awareness, cooperation and commitment with local employers, policymakers, educators and economic developers. The initial seven counties completed the year-long training in December 2016. In 2018, three additional counties (Jefferson, Arkansas, and Grant) joined the effort to complete the 10-county region of the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District.

Janie Carter, the UAM grant manager for the Regional Workforce Grants, lauded Drew County’s resilience in the certification process.

“The partners in Drew County have shown amazing resilience in continuing to work toward this goal completion,” Carter said. “There were numerous challenges over the past few years that sometimes slowed down their progress, but in the end, it has all been worth the effort. The ACTWRC coordinator, UAM’s Adult Education WAGE coordinator, Jerry Bayliss, Jr., brought new enthusiasm and perseverance to the team, and we greatly appreciate him.”

Achieving the ACT Work Ready Community status was a lengthy process that created “a tremendous economic development tool to draw business and industry” to Southeast Arkansas, according to Linda Rushing, vice chancellor for the UAM College of Technology-Crossett. “I commend Jerry Bayliss, Jr., Janie Carter and the county teams for their hard work and persistence to accomplish this workforce status for our region,” Rushing said.

“We congratulate Drew County for this significant achievement, and we are proud to add them to our growing list of certified ACT Work Ready Communities,” said Cheri Tune, ACT Regional Manager for Workforce Initiatives. “The progressive thinking and positive action demonstrated by county leadership shows an enduring commitment to growing the economic success of the area. As a result, local residents will begin seeing the important linkage between education and workforce development and the value of matching people to jobs.”