Mexico looks to improve economic future

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MEXICO- Audrain County recently received designation as a work ready community in progress, a designation Mexico plans to use to continue the growth of its local economy.

The county was one of four to apply for the designation earlier this year. The program allows communities to give certification tests to members of the community to attract new businesses and help citizens get better jobs.

"We were one of four communities that submitted an application that was chosen in this latest application process to work toward being a certified work ready community, which allows us as a community, as our businesses, as our educational interest to allow a baseline for those businesses to be able to test their employees or the school to test their kids coming out," Mexico's Assistant City Manager of Economic Development Russell Runge said. "So they have that baseline to be able to say we are educated in this matter, not so much through ACT type of testing but more of a workforce ready type of education."

The certification test features reading and math skills as well as tests the students' ability to locate information. Job seekers can put the certification on their resumes, which is meant to help set them apart in the job application process and help employers find the right candidate for their jobs.

"It's a program for job seekers, to give them some credentials so they can go out and have better shot at getting a job. And then for businesses it's a program that helps them narrow down qualified candidates," said Bernie Andrews, the Executive Vice President of REDI in Columbia.

Students and employees who pass the test get the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC). The Missouri Career Center in Columbia offers to test to anyone in the state.

Once a county earns in progress designation, there are certain goals the county must meet within two years to become a certified work ready community. Counties must get a certain number of emerging workers, or students, to take the test. Counties must also get a certain number of transitional workers to take the test. Transitional workers are current employees looking for new jobs and students enrolled in adult education programs. The county must also attract a certain number of businesses to sign up as employer partners to recognize the certification and support the initiative.

Currently, Audrain County has reached 18 percent of its set goals. The county needs a total of 238 employees to take the test and 34 employers to support the program. The county must meet all of the goals by July 2016. 

Boone County already has in progress designation and Andrews said getting business support is the most important part of the program's success.

"That's the key to getting the program to work, in my opinion. To encourage someone to take the test, there has to be an opportunity for a job interview and eventually a job down the road in order to get them to take the test," Andrews said.

Runge said the designation is especially important in improving education to prepare students to join the workforce.

"We see it as something that will be beneficial for the businesses because there are education skill levels that need to be obtained. We need to know about it, the school system needs to know about it, the certified work ready community program does allow those individuals taking the test then to be able to educate themselves further through computer classes and different classes that are offered throughout the area which will then allow them to have better jobs and better opportunities for them as well in the future," Runge said.

Moving forward, Runge said the Mexico must focus on spreading the word to get more people to take the test and recruit more business to support the program. If the city succeeds in reaching these goals, he said more businesses will choose Mexico as a location and more residents will be able to join the workforce.

The designation will set Audrain county, as well as other certified communities, apart because of the rarity of full certification. Andrews said he estimates only about 10 communities nationwide have the certified work ready community designation, giving those communities a national spotlight for site selectors and companies looking to expand or relocate into areas with qualified workforces.

For more information on the work ready community progress and to see where communities stand, visit the program's website.