State Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, is pushing ahead on several business issues.

Lauer, chair of the House Workforce Development Committee, has a bill to allow high school students to take the WorkKeys test -- a broad assessment of work readiness -- instead of the ACT college-entrance exam.

“It is a very difficult test,” she said.

Currently the state pays for high school students to the take the ACT once.

The Missouri House has passed the bill, and it moves to the Senate.

Lauer also has a bill to allow smaller companies to form a consortium to qualify for workforce development programs and a bill to allow teacher “externships” -- time spent with a private employer with the idea of having a deeper knowledge of their subject matter -- to count as professional development.

Lauer stresses that the majority of the good jobs of the future will largely be in what are call the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math. Only about 20 percent of Missouri workers are ready for those jobs, she says.

“So we’re really working to close that gap,” she says.

Quick hits

Bloomberg, the financial news service, reported Tuesday that clothing retailer Gordmans Stores Inc. is preparing to file for bankruptcy. The company, based in Omaha, has stores in Independence and Blue Springs among its 101 locations in 22 states. The company announced staff cuts in January but didn’t detail how many people were being let go. … The Grain Valley Partnership, the group formed at the beginning of the year with the merger of the Grain Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Grain Valley Economic Development Corp., is holding a business-after-hours event next week. It’s at 5 p.m. March 16 at the Grain Valley Historical Society, 506 N. Main St.

Layoff alternative

The Missouri Division of Employment Security reminds employers that it has a program to help when they are considering layoffs. The state has had a Shared Work program for years.

“It’s just one of those best-kept secrets,” Delores Rose said at Tuesday’s Grain Valley Partnership monthly luncheon. She does Shared Work outreach for the state Department of Labor.

Employers and employees can come out ahead, she said. She used this example: A company has five workers, and business is off, pointing toward a 20 percent cut in staff – one job. Under Shared Work, the employer keeps all five workers at four days a week, and they would get some pay, under unemployment insurance, for the fifth day. Employers pay into the unemployment fund, and their overall cost under Shared Work wouldn’t go up. Employees also have the advantage of keeping benefits such as health coverage.

That means the employees are getting by with a little less, temporarily, but no one of them has to try to make do with Missouri’s low jobless benefits, which top out at $320 a week. The advantages to the employer are retaining experienced workers and avoiding the expense – typically well into four figures – of hiring someone new when business bounces back.

“If you want to hold on to them, Shared Work is an option,” Rose said.

She stressed that the program is flexible.

“Most employers are just going to be on the program a few weeks or a few months at a time,” she said.

For more information, go to sharedwork.mo.gov or call 573-751-WORK.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor and reporter. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or jeff.fox@examiner.net. He’s on Twitter @FoxEJC.