By Stephanie Dolan
The strength of a community can be measured in many ways. And everyone knows that when the job market is strong, the community thrives.
In Johnson County, the ACT Work Ready Community program was launched earlier this month by the Johnson County Development Corporation. ACT Work Ready communities are billed as a part of a national infrastructure creating community-based networks to link, align and match America’s workforce.
Dana Monson, 54, is the executive director of the Johnson County Development Corporation, and she is passionate about the rollout of this new program in Johnson County.
“One of the beauties of this program is really identifying those skills gaps with your employers and helping them with retention,” Monson said. “By going through this system, getting those jobs profiled and understanding exactly what is needed they can better connect that and better align that with the workforce that they already have. If you get an employee that’s in a skilled job that they can do well and that they enjoy, they’re going to stay longer. So, this helps with that retention.
“It also helps employers identify skills that are weaknesses overall and help employees understand the skills they actually need for a job. ACT Work Ready Communities Program is a national program. Our role has been to bring this national program and bring it here through a partnership with Johnson County Development Corporation, Aspire Johnson County, Central Nine Career Center, the Franklin Work One Office and the Johnson County Public Library as well as Ivy Tech and Franklin College.”
Gayle Brooks, 59, is a continuing education coordinator for the Central Nine Career Center, and she is seeing firsthand how the ACT Work Ready program is benefitting her students.
“Anyone can benefit from it,” Brooks said. “There are two parts to the certification – the number of individuals earning the national career readiness certificate through the work keys testing and then a certain number of employers recognizing that testing. Work One has done the testing, and employers ask for the testing. We just are kind of pushing it up and getting more organized about it.”
Brooks said that this initiative is gaining national recognition.
“There are six counties in Indiana that are already certified ACT Work Ready communities,” she said. “I heard about it at an adult education conference. I’m on the adult education side of Central Nine. There are a lot of gaps, and there are a lot of employers who aren’t getting the employees that they need. Or students are going to college when they could really just learn a trade and be happier and more well off, but at the same time there’s kind of stigma that goes along with that.”
Central Nine Career Center services both high school students from Central Nine High School as well as adults who take advantage of nighttime classes.
“Our main focus, when people think of adult education, are high school equivalency and English as a second language classes,” Brooks said. “That’s kind of our base. We also have continuing education job training classes. But the department of workforce development has really changed how we do things. They don’t want someone to just get their GED and be done. They want job training of some sort and to get them a job. We’ve really expanded the continuing education in recent years. We have great labs. There’s a whole building with car lifts for auto repair. There are kids there during the day and adults there at night.”
Central Nine also offers welding, certified nurse assistance and certified electronics technicians, as well as classes in QuickBooks, Microsoft Word and Excel.
“We probably have at least 15 offsite locations around Johnson County and southern Marion County as well,” Brooks said.
Monson added that the Johnson County Development Corporation is a one-stop shop for the county when it comes to growing a business.
“We are here to represent any community, any business, anyone who’s wanting to start a business or who’s been here a while and wants to expand,” she said. “We’re here to help with all facets of that. We’re nonprofit so we’re apolitical. We represent all of the county. We’re not beholden to one little area or another. We look at what’s in the best interest of the community and the company. We help them through the incentive processes and through sight location. Just like if you were buying a house and setting things up for the first time. Which utility company do I go through? How do I get my electric turned on? We go through those same questions. How do I get this permitting or that zoning done? It just helps to have one office where you can get all that done and to streamline that process to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make our businesses successful.”
Monson also said that this program is going to help residents of the community.
“We want vibrant communities,” she said. “We want opportunities for residents. We want to see them in communities with nice amenities. We want to see them in communities that are healthy and safe. And having those good skilled quality jobs that give folks that income – that is going to help everybody. The rising tide raises all ships. That’s what’s important to me.”
Monson can be reached with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5 questions with Dana Monson and Gayle Brooks
What did you want to be when you were little?
Dana – I wanted to be a teacher. I was a teacher for a long time before I switched gears mid-life. I loved teaching.
Gayle – I was always interested in fashion merchandising, which is what my degree was in. My mom was a designer. She sewed, and I really enjoyed the fruits of her labor.
What was your first job?
Dana – It was working at a restaurant called Burger Queen in Kentucky. I was 15.
Gayle – When I turned 16, I got a job at South Keystone Twin Cinemas.
Do you have a work goal that you’ve yet to reach?
Dana – I do. As far as working with our communities, I’m working very hard on that collaboration and bringing our communities together. I’m seeing that happen but it’s one of those things that we can always do better.
Gayle – I think mine is similar in that we’re seeing that now with a lot of community initiatives working together. We have guidance counselors, principals, different HR people. There’s a good cross section, and instead of us all trying to do their own thing, I feel like we’re all connected better. I think this program is the result of that. It’s great to bring people together. We do want the community to be the best that it can be.
What are you currently reading?
Dana – I just started a book last night called The Three by Sarah Lotz.
Gayle – I read the new Nicholas Sparks’ book, Every Breath, last weekend. I’ve also been rereading the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
Dana – I consider myself an equalist. I grew up very blessed. I grew up with parents and grandparents who told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. For me, I never really felt like I’m a girl and I can’t do that. I believe that if we got past labels and we saw people as they are, we’d be a whole lot better off as a country.
Gayle – I believe in some aspects I’m a feminist. Opportunities for women were starting to change when I was growing up. I feel like it’s so important that women be given the same opportunities. We’ve come a long way. When I grew up too no one told me I couldn’t do one thing or another. My parents were very open, and I was one of the youngest of the cousins and one of the first to go to college.