MRPC News Release

For immediate release
April 21, 2016

For more information, contact
Bonnie Prigge at (573) 265-2993 or

Department of Economic Development (DED)Manager Mike Downing presented Maries County Commissioner Ray Schwartze with a plaque, recognizing Maries County as a Certified Work Ready Community (CWRC). Attending the ceremony were (from left) Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MPRC) Executive Director Bonnie Prigge, Department of Economic Development (DED) Certified Work Ready Communities Director Cheri Tune, Paul DiBello and Kevin Standler of the Central Region Workforce Development Board, Maries County Presiding Commissioner Ray Schwartze, DED Manager Mike Downing and Maries County R-2—Belle School District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Call.

Vienna High School (VHS) students were awarded National Career Ready Certificates March 18 for successfully completing WorkKeys testing. The director of the Department of Economic Development (DED), Maries County commissioner, local businesses and Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) supported the students in the endeavor. Those pictured include (front row, left) Teegan Helton, Timothy James, Maries County Commissioner Ray Schwartze, MRPC Executive Director Bonnie Prigge, DED Director Mike Downing, DED Certified Work Ready Communities Director Cheri Tune, Madison Stricklan and Austin James; second row, left, Derek Kleffner, Annie John, Ryleigh James, Brock Feeler, Gina Wieberg, Cassidy Hill and Kaitlyn Stockstill; third row, left, Rebecca Hertzing, Joseph Schulte, Darien Hollis, Sevanah Fuller, Ariel Pierce and Jadyn Hall; fourth row, left, Ryan Logan, Ryan Kloeppel and Dakota Hollis. Not pictured are Kalisa Lillie, Tanner Wansing and Megan Wieberg.

Maries County receives Certified Work Ready Community status

ST. JAMES—Department of Economic Development (DED) Manager Mike Downing presented Maries County Presiding Commissioner Ray Schwartze with a plaque on March 18 at Vienna High School (VHS) that designated the county as a Certified Work Ready Community (CWRC).

During the presentation, 23 VHS student recipients were also presented with National Career Ready Certificates (NCRC) for successfully completing the WorkKeys testing.

“This day is a culmination of much hard work on the part of Maries County leadership and so many talented students who proved their skills by undergoing WorkKeys testing and earning certificates for career readiness,” Downing said. “I am proud of these students. Proving and improving Maries County’s already strong workforce pipeline adds economic strength and resilience at both the local and state levels.”

Maries County achieved the CWRC status after students in both the Maries County R-1 and Maries County R-2 school districts successfully completed WorkKeys testing and earned NCRCs.

The CWRC designation, made by American College Testing (ACT), aligns workforce-training programs with the economic development needs of communities, matches appropriate applicants to jobs based on skill level and strengthens businesses by strengthening the workforce. WorkKeys testing NCRC is just one part of the rigorous process.

Successful completion of ACT WorkKeys assessments in applied mathematics, locating information and reading for information can lead to earning the National Career Ready Certificate, a portable credential earned by more than 2.3 million people across the United States. Currently 67,000 Missouri residents hold National Career Ready Certificates credentials. The ACT NCRC is the key measurement in Missouri’s CWRC initiative.

Thanks to special funding through the DED Division of Workforce Development, schools in Maries, Gasconade and Osage counties have been able to test juniors and seniors at their schools at no cost to the schools.

Achieving CWRC certification in Maries, Gasconade and Osage counties has been an initiative of the Gasconade Valley Enterprise Zone (GVEZ). Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) has assisted GVEZ and Maries County with the effort.

“Maries County is now a certified work ready community, and our schools and our students played a huge role in helping us achieve that designation and accomplishment. Having students with NCRC credentials was that last hurdle, and everyone came together to make that happen at no financial cost to our schools or students,” said Bonnie Prigge, executive director of MRPC. “There are 3.2 million National Career Ready Certificate holders nationwide and 180 of those are here in Maries County. We are one of 100 counties nationwide that is now certified and there are 13,000 businesses nationwide who recognize the NCRC credentials.”

Schwartze, who also chairs the Maries County CWRC and the GVEZ, and Downing presented the certificates to VHS juniors and seniors in the high school gym. Schwartze commended students for “going above and beyond,” as the WorkKeys test is not a required test. Schwartze also presented certificates to nearly 35 Belle High School (BHS) students earlier this year.

"We have an extremely talented group of young people in our county, and the WorkKeys testing proved that,” Schwartze said.

Kingsford Manufacturing, located near Belle, sent representatives Cathy Hanrahan and Casey Schalk to the ceremony. Hanrahan said the business hires through the Missouri Career Center where applicants take WorkKey tests.

Kingsford uses the NCRC certificates as a part of its hiring and promotion process.

“To stay competitive today and in the future requires talented and engaged employees who think like business owners and drive continuous improvement,” said Steve Miller, Kingsford Manufacturing plant manager. “Through the Missouri Career Center and the WorkKeys testing program, we’ve been able to find people with the right skills who can help us continue to be a successful operation, great place to work and a strong community partner.”

CWRC status makes communities more attractive to businesses because it offers a feedback loop for what’s needed by different players in the dynamic 21st Century workforce. Specifically, benefits from CWRCcertification include:

· Workers better understand what skills employers require and how to prepare themselves for success.
· Businesses can more effectively communicate their workforce needs to area education and workforce training programs.
· Educators have better tools for closing any skill gaps by establishing career pathways for students with stackable industry-recognized credentials.
· Economic development organizations are better equipped with an on-demand reporting tool to promote the quality of their workforce.

VHS Guidance Counselor Natalie Martin said the students knew the test was voluntary, yet everyone who was available to take it, took it.

“Our students were excited about the program,” Martin said. “Now more students want to be a part of it in the future.”

Established in 2012, Missouri was selected as one of the first four states to participate in the CWRC initiative by ACT. Now 24 states are participating. The national initiative was developed to close the skills gap by aligning workforce-training programs with the economic development needs of communities. Free WorkKeys testing for those who are 18 and older is available at Missouri Career Centers.

For more information about CWRC and how to apply for certification, visit


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