Georgia’s Workforce Initiative: A Model for Transforming a State’s Workforce

The Challenge

Transform the workforce for the State of Georgia by linking education and workforce, and creating alignment with the economic development needs of the state, its regions, and its communities

Key Components And Program Enhancements

Key Components

  1. Workforce Certificates, powered by the ACT® National Career Readiness Certificate
  2. Job Profiles completed by ACT-authorized job profilers
  3. Georgia Certified Communities
  4. Georgia Certified Regions


  1. Job Seeker Focused Program
  2. Employer Focused Program
  3. Certified Facilities
  4. Connecting employers with job seekers

Note: The program components, implementation and results profiled describe Georgia’s initiative as of December 2010.

The Results

From the launch of the state’s program in August 2006, through December 2010:

  • More than 196,850 Georgians earned National Career Readiness Certificates; 19 percent earned state Platinum- or Gold-level Certificates
  • More than 200 employers completed one or more job profiles
  • More than 14,000 Georgians found work using their certificates during the one-year period of January 1 to December 31, 2010
  • 91 counties were certified by Georgia, and another 56 were working toward earning that designation
  • As part of the effort, Georgia public high school graduation rates rose nearly 10 percent since 2007 to just over 80 percent in 2010
  • 18 certified regions were in progress to develop talent pools aligned to strategic growth industries; 8 of the 18 were operating with a sustained record of success
  • 93 percent of Georgians holding a certificate would recommend it to others
  • 90 percent of businesses using the program would recommend it to another business

Program History And Overview

The state’s program was launched in August 2006 by Governor Sonny Perdue and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to improve the job training and marketability of Georgia’s workforce and drive future economic growth for the state.

At the core of the program is an ACT-registered certificate based on ACT WorkKeys® assessments, and a job profiling system for businesses performed by ACT- authorized job profilers. By identifying both the needs of business and the available skills of Georgia’s workforce, the state can more effectively help generate the right talent for the right jobs.

The Governor’s Office of Workforce Development (GOWD) began administering the components of the state’s initiative in 2006. Debra Lyons, the executive director of this office during the development and initiation of the program, said, “When you see the certificate, it has two signatures: the governor and the president of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. The business survey data from 2008 and 2010 validates that industry knows the value of the program, and it is working for them in Georgia.”

Key Component 1: Workforce Certificates

Through the program, job seekers and employed workers were able to pursue a certificate at no cost to help them and better market their skills to current and future employers. The certificate carries a seal authenticating it as equivalent to ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRCTM). The NCRC is a portable, evidence-based credential issued by ACT that measures essential workplace skills and is a reliable predictor of workplace success. Based on ACT’s WorkKeys assessments, the NCRC is a proven system for linking job skills with workplace success. To earn an NCRC, individuals take three WorkKeys assessments: Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information. The assessments are objective, standardized assessments, administered in secure, monitored testing environments to ensure the validity of test results. The resulting WorkKeys scores determine the certificate level earned: Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze. Employers can verify an applicant or employee’s registered NCRC online just by keying in the certificate number provided by the individual, provided that individual has chosen to make his/her certificate results public.

Assessment center locations were available online. Individuals wishing to improve their skills prior to taking the assessments, or to improve their certificate level, could access free KeyTrain® skills gap training or other curricula available through the Technical College System of Georgia. The assessment and certification process provided Georgians with an objective view of their talents and areas needing improvement in order to maximize their chances of finding a position leading to a successful career.

Key Component 2: Job Profiles

Designed to help employers put the right person in the right job, profiles were offered at no cost to Georgia employers meeting minimum hiring criteria. An ACT-authorized profiler visited the work site and, aided by the employees already performing the job successfully, helped identify the required job tasks and skill levels for each position. Profilers complete a seven-week training process to learn how to conduct a profile and create customized reports analyzing the tasks and skill levels required for entry and for effective performance on the job. Georgia had a total of nearly 50 authorized profilers, with at least one on each campus of the Technical College System, allowing statewide access by Georgia employers.

Key Component 3: Georgia Certified Communities

As part of the state’s initiative, counties throughout the state made a commitment to earn certified status—a designation showing they have the talented workforce that business demands and the means to drive economic growth and prosperity.

To be certified, counties drove current and prospective employees in both the private and public sectors to earn certificates, demonstrated a commitment to improving public high school graduation rates, and built community commitment for meeting these goals. Each community created a team of economic development, government, and education partners to meet the certification criteria. Counties were given three years to reach the goals necessary to become certified. Those counties willing to complete the process in 18 months were eligible for state-funded grants and serve as models for the initiative, showcasing successes and best practices for others to follow.

From 2006 to 2010, 91 counties were certified and another 56 were working toward earning that designation.

Profile: Monroe County, Georgia

The Forsyth-Monroe County Chamber of Commerce initiated the process, but reaching the certification goal involved the Chamber, the Board of Education, the mayor, the county commission chair, Central Georgia Technical College, and the Georgia Department of Labor. The leadership team built excitement around the program through radio ads, articles in the county newspaper, and Chamber newsletters. A billboard on Interstate 75 also created buzz. The local Chamber, in conjunction with the local Central Georgia Technical College campus, coordinated a leadership assessment challenge event to engage a variety of community leaders.

Local businesses rallied around the program as well. The president of Monroe County Bank required all bank employees to take the assessments. The president of American International Movers earned a certificate and expected all applicants to his company to earn them as well. Monroe County’s strong government employment base came on board as well. Monroe County is home to the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and the Georgia Department of Corrections headquarters. The corrections department planned to profile many of its 400 positions. The Monroe County Board of Education involved the senior class by making the assessment a mandatory part of the high school graduation process. 2 As a result of the combined programs, Monroe County residents earned 419 certificates, about 14 percent more than its goal. The county’s graduation rate increased from 67.3 to 75.9 percent during the certification process.

Chamber president and CEO Tiffany Andrews said, “From an economic development standpoint, becoming a certified community is a powerful tool for us. The statistics on the community’s workforce provided by the program are things we can share with prospects.”

Key Component 4: Certified Regions

For the state’s fastest-growing industries—aerospace, advanced communications, advanced manufacturing, bioscience, energy, and logistics—certified regions were established to deliver competitive advantages for Georgia companies. The state supported growth in key industries by providing tools and metrics to help its education and training community manage talent development to ensure a long-term pipeline of skilled employees. Each certified region was led by an industry leader, working with a regional industry network to ensure that the region’s growth plan met the current and future needs of area employers. Certified regions met critical workforce needs in regional industry clusters by:

  • Educating the state’s emerging workforce including high school and technical college students for exciting careers in cutting-edge industries
  • Answering the needs of Georgia’s transitioning workforce— those individuals looking for work, looking for a career change, and veterans entering the workforce—to help them leverage their talents in preparing for these knowledge-based jobs and career advancement opportunities
  • Offering the existing workforce an opportunity to help prepare for advancement and to meet common training needs across the region for each industry

The regions produced results by:

  • Profiling regional strategic industry jobs Ensuring counties reach their certificate goals Closing the skills gap Increasing public high school graduation rates
  • Developing career pathways aligned to critical occupations
  • Ensuring the education community graduated enough new talent
  • Building a sustainable industry network to lead the effort

Georgia is home to many advanced manufacturing companies. The continued success of these companies requires an investment in cutting-edge equipment and systems; however, the need for investment does not stop with the new capital purchases. To achieve success and maximize technology, companies must also have the right people with the right skills. Georgia understood this and responded to ensure the industries’ talent pool can operate and maintain the equipment and systems that drive growth. The regions linked education and workforce development through career pathways that resulted in graduates prepared to fill these jobs.

Profile: Wiregrass Advanced Manufacturing Region

Three regions were awarded the “Go for the Gold Award,” an honor recognizing the region for quantifiably demonstrating a process to effectively use skills gap training to improve the quality of the region’s available workforce. One of the three, the Wiregrass Advanced Manufacturing Region made up of seven south central Georgia counties, received the “100% Award” for exceeding expectations in producing a sustainable regional workforce development strategy that provided transformational change to the region.

The Wiregrass Region’s vision was to be recognized throughout the Southeast as a region that creates jobs, particularly in advanced manufacturing, by enthusiastically collaborating with economic development and education partners and taking advantage of available resources and opportunities. The region established both short- and long- term goals centered on completing job profiles; ensuring that employers advertise they will prefer or even require certificates from applicants; assisting communities and counties in attaining certified status; providing skill training software to area high schools; and, ensuring that graduating seniors have an opportunity to earn a certificate.

Enhancement A: Job Seeker Programs

The state created a job seeker program designed to help unemployed Georgians showcase and improve their work readiness skills. Job seekers were able to jump start their job search, gain confidence and earn a competitive advantage in the marketplace by earning a certificate. For the first year of the job seeker program, the state provided a financial incentive of $50 for unemployed Georgians who earned a Bronze, Silver, or Gold certificate; $100 for a Platinum certificate; and $100 for those who improved their certificate level through free, online training. The incentive, funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was sent as a prepaid card to assist applicants with job search expenses.

Georgians embraced this opportunity to improve their certificate level. In the seven-month period beginning June 1, 2010, and ending December 31, 2010, 1,342 certificate holders improved their levels.

Profile: Geralyn Rapp, Job Seeker of the Month, August 2010

A resident of Emerson, Geralyn Rapp worked for an engineering company for 12 years, surviving periodic layoffs and downsizing. In May 2009, her company announced it was eliminating 26 percent of its workforce, and this time she was one of them. “This was my first experience with being let go from a job,” Rapp said. “Though mentally I knew it wasn’t performance related, emotionally it was devastating.”

Geralyn took up a new job: finding work. She realized a lot had changed since she was last in the job market. In less than a year, Geralyn filled out more than 90 job applications and received only four invitations to interview. She did everything she could think of and everything career advisors suggested, all to no avail. “I was so frustrated. I hadn’t used my job skills in so long that I wondered if maybe I was losing them. Was I becoming unemployable?”

Then in February 2010, Geralyn was at the Cartersville Department of Labor Career Center when she came across a flyer describing Georgia’s program. She discussed it with Career Center personnel, visited the website, tried a series of sample questions online, and signed up to take the assessments.

“As I completed the testing, I remember feeling so happy that my brain was still functional,” Geralyn said. “But when the proctor told me I had earned a Gold-level certificate, I was elated. It was the push I needed to rebuild my self- confidence.”

Soon after taking the assessments, Geralyn was invited to another job interview. This time she went armed with her certificate, her newfound confidence, wearing a new interview outfit purchased with the $100 debit card she received for earning her certificate as part of the state’s job seeker initiative for unemployed Georgians. In April 2010, just two months after taking the assessment, she was offered a position as a Career Advisor with the Cartersville Department of Labor.

“I knew I needed something on my resume to help me stand out. My Gold-level ... certificate did just that.”

Enhancement B: Employer Focused Program

The state’s employer focused program helped Georgia’s private-sector businesses employing 50 or fewer people to build strong, skilled workforces. The state of Georgia reimbursed $250 in hiring and training costs for each certified employee hired, up to a maximum of five employees or $1,250 per company.

Profile: Osborne Wood Products, Inc., Toccoa, Georgia

Osborne Wood Products is a family-owned company in northeast Georgia. The 28-employee firm offers quality wood products including kitchen island legs, table legs, architectural columns and other decorative items in a variety of sizes, styles, and wood types. The company offers stock items and also designs and crafts custom orders.

“Our company has changed a lot in the last 10 years,” said Leon Osborne, chief executive officer of Osborne Wood Products. “Sometimes I feel like it has changed a lot in the last 10 months and even the last 10 weeks.” The major reason: advances in technology. “Hiring people with high math, computer, and language skills is essential today, while 10 years ago the requirements were not as demanding.”

As the work became more complex, hiring the right people became a bigger challenge. Osborne shared this example: “Two years ago, we had an opening for an administrative assistant. We posted the position and had 110 applicants. It took hours and hours of labor-intensive work to sort through the applications. And in the end, we still weren’t sure we picked the right individual because we really didn’t know what skills they had. The system was archaic and grossly unfair to all those involved.” Something had to change. Then Osborne learned about the state’s employer focused initiative for small businesses. 4 Osborne says that at first, they were worried about implementing the program. “We thought it was going to be a major task. But as we learned more about the testing facilities in Georgia and the support that the state, county, area technical colleges, and the Chamber of Commerce were providing, we found that all we had to do was set our own rules. And the rule at Osborne Wood is simple: no certificate—no need to apply.”

Osborne continued, “We no longer have to deal with stacks of applications. Now we have a much better idea of what we’re getting, and our existing employees know that the new team member will be equipped to learn quickly and contribute right away. With this program, we’re able to place the right person in the right job.”

Another benefit pertains to training new employees. Because the company has a valid measure of the skill strengths of each new employee as they come on board, they have a good idea of the training that may be needed. That improves internal planning and helps keep training costs low.

Osborne added, “As a lean manufacturing company, we are interested in applying lean principles to every part of our business. Until this program came along, we hadn’t been able to figure out how to ‘lean down’ our hiring process. Now we have the answer. Any time we can eliminate wasted time, we’re eliminating waste. Now we have a hiring process that is more effective than we dreamed possible.”

“While the ... reimbursement dollars are appreciated,” Osborne said, “The benefit, the long-term value of hiring truly qualified individuals is so much greater. Best of all, we have moved from a system that was unfair to most everyone, to one that is objective and impartial to job seekers, employees, and employers.”

Enhancement C: Certified Facilities

Companies in Georgia interested in a holistic approach to the system had the opportunity to become certified facilities. Since each business is unique, there was not a standard set of guidelines established to earn this designation. Rather, each facility developed its own certification plan to be approved by GOWD. Once the company successfully implemented its approved plan, it was certified.

The basic approach for a company to become certified included:

  • Designing a plan to use certificates and profiles to develop the existing workforce and hire new workers, including calculation of anticipated return on investment of implementing the program.
  • Submitting a plan for approval by the GOWD
  • Implementing an approved plan and calculating actual return on investment; if the plan results in promotions and increases in hourly wages, include these outcomes in the results
  • Presenting results to the GOWD for certification Continuing to use the program as a normal business
  • practice

The first certified facility in Georgia was First Quality (formerly Covidien) in Macon. This manufacturer of branded and private-label hygiene, paper, and non-woven products for healthcare, retail, and commercial channels has used ACT’s WorkKeys assessments since 2004 and earned its certification in 2008.

Profile: Flexsteel Industries, Dublin, Georgia

Flexsteel Industries, a manufacturer of residential, commercial, and vehicle seating, believes that creating a solid base of skilled workers is the best way to create a stronger community and attract new business. For this reason, the company got involved in the certified facility initiative. The Heart of Georgia Technical College, one of the driving forces behind business development in Laurens County, introduced the manufacturer to Georgia’s program. Since August 2008, the technical college has profiled several jobs for Flexsteel. The company has more than 300 employees working in profiled positions.

“We use the job profiles along with applicants’ ... certificate levels to create the best fit possible for both parties,” said Judy Mayo, assistant human resources manager at Flexsteel. “We now have a smarter, more thorough approach for evaluating the skill levels of potential employees and determining where they fit into our process. Other benefits include lower turnover rates, shorter training time, and an increased focus on training throughout the company.”

“Taking the ... assessment gave our employees more pride in themselves and more pride in the company,” Mayo said. “There was a lot of excitement when we launched [the program].”

5 Flexsteel announced the initiative by including a mailer in each employee’s paycheck outlining an incentive program for taking the WorkKeys assessment. The higher the certificate level reached, the larger the incentive from the company.

As of December 2010, approximately 172 of Flexsteel’s 329 employees were certified.

Other Certified Facilities:

Eastman Kodak Company, Columbus, Georgia

At this manufacturer of lithographic plates for printing press companies, 190 of 313 employees earned their certificate by the end of 2010. The company worked with Columbus Technical College to profile positions and offer assessments.

Solo Cup Company, Augusta, Thomaston, Conyers and Social Circle, Georgia

Nearly 40 percent of the company’s 500 employees earned certificates. Honored as the 2008 business of the year, this manufacturer of single-use products for beverage and food service worked with DeKalb Technical College and Athens Technical College to develop profiles and proctor testing. Prospective employees are required to hold a certificate.

Enhancement D: Connecting Employers And Job Seekers

The state’s Connect program featured a website that helped open the door to new opportunities for both Georgia job seekers and employers. The site was available exclusively to those individuals holding a certificate and those companies that value certification among their prospective employees.

Georgia job seekers used the state’s Connect program to:

  • Build a personal profile that highlights the applicant’s job skills, education, and qualifications
  • View recommended jobs for each individual’s skill set
  • Search and apply for jobs throughout the state
  • Connect with Georgia employers seeking the best possible candidates

Georgia employers used the state’s Connect program to:

  • Build a company profile so job seekers can learn about the organization
  • Post open positions
  • Connect with pre-screened job candidates who hold a certificate

The Technical College System of Georgia

The Technical College System of Georgia is the state’s primary provider of technical education, customized corporate training, and adult education. Georgians seeking adult education programs had a choice of 37 programs within the Technical College System offered on more than 25 college campuses across the state. These programs were continually updated to respond to the changing needs of industry, and to ensure relevant, marketable, and quality technical education.

The colleges are active in local economic development efforts and provided proctored testing sites for WorkKeys assessments to help individuals earn certificates. Most of the state’s ACT-authorized job profilers were connected to the Technical College System.

Profile: The Heart of Georgia Technical College

The Heart of Georgia Technical College in Dublin was recognized in December 2010 as the team of the year. Known for its efficiency in assessment delivery and attention to precision and customer service, this Technical College Campus set an exceptional standard for best practices. The College extended the benefits of the state’s program to all sectors of the population in each county in its service delivery area in central Georgia by maintaining strong relationships with key partners including career centers, local school systems, and business and industry leaders.

Georgia’s Local Workforce Investment Boards

The Georgia Department of Labor established 20 local service delivery areas to serve the citizens of the state. Each has a local Workforce Investment Board appointed by local elected officials responsible for designing local One-Stop Workforce Systems. The majority of Board members are from the private sector; human service agencies, parents, and other workforce-related customers and interested parties are included as well. Each Board and Workforce

System is uniquely designed to serve the employers and communities in that delivery area. There are over 45 comprehensive, full- service One-Stop Centers, and nearly three-quarters of these are Department of Labor Career Centers.

Profile: East Central Georgia Consortium

Based in Thomson, this Consortium was recognized in December 2010 as the Local Workforce Investment Board of the Year. The East Central Georgia Consortium participated in a variety of projects designed to help build economic development opportunities and create a skilled workforce. The Consortium helped eight of its 12 counties become certified communities and engaged their local workforce in skills gap training. They offered a variety of resources for area businesses including job profiling, assessments, and general and job-specific training opportunities.

Sustaining the Vision

“The state’s workforce development initiative has given the State of Georgia a competitive advantage in today’s aggressive environment to attract companies,” said Heidi Green, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development under Governor Sonny Perdue. “With this program, we can market a skilled workforce and have the data to stand behind our assertion. No other state in the nation has the third-party validated, skills-certified data that Georgia can provide to a company.”

Governor Perdue, whose vision was the impetus behind Georgia’s initiative, added, “We have transformed the workforce in our state. Using this innovative initiative, we are building a world-class workforce with the skills that employers demand.”

The momentum started by this initiative has continued through Georgia’s private sector. An additional 85,000 NCRCs have been issued and 150 more jobs have been profiled since December 2010.