Five students from the Marshfield High School Applied Communications course earned a Platinum Certificate, the highest achievement you can earn (see sidebar), on the ACT WorkKeys.
Those students were Leiken Barton, Cody Busch, Logan Christian, Jason Tuter and Cody McHardy. At first glance, that doesn’t sound like a big accomplishment, but it’s one element that looks good to employers, especially those who support the Work Ready Community Program by using the WorkKeys assessment as a reference for seeking employees. Thirty-six employers in Webster County are listed that recognize or recommend the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), according to workreadycommunities.org.
“The Work Ready Community Program is a partnership between schools, businesses and community,” said Craig Hurst, who teaches Applied Communications at Marshfield High School. “The goal of the program is to register the workforce and document how prepared they are as long-term employees. It’s something that the ACT does because they have the test. They want people who are entering the workforce, between jobs, and currently employed to take the test.”
The ACT WorkKeys Curriculum helps individuals build the essential career-relevant skills needed for learning, personal development and effective job performance. Potential workers take a standardized test and are assessed at a particular level, labeled as platinum, gold, silver or bronze. Sections on the test include applied math, graphic literacy and workplace documents. When he started teaching the applied communications course, Hurst thought about what would help students become more career focused after they graduate high school.
“The first thing I heard about was the mock interview,” said Hurst. “There was one down in Nixa. I got a reference from Joy Horgan, a counselor down there. I contacted her towards the end of the 2017-18 school year and started talking to her about a class she does, which is mainly career prep, resumes, things like that. She mentioned the WorkKeys test as something else they did to support their students.”
The test has been around for several years, but was something districts in the area hadn’t implemented. When he looked into the program, Hurst wanted an opportunity for students to take the test and to get the community involved in the Work Ready Program. In June, a committee was assembled to move forward with the application process for the Work Ready Community Program, administered through the Workforce Development branch of the state’s Department of Economic Development. One of the goals of the program is to provide a look into the quality of workers available in the community so that employers understand they are getting well-qualified employees.
On the national ACT Work Ready Communities website, it shows how many people have taken the WorkKeys test in any given county and what skill certificate level they have achieved. Those skill levels indicate to what extent a person has a baseline knowledge of the general kind of skills you would need in a workplace, according to Hurst.
“Carthage Water and Electric was one of the companies I spoke with that started instituting the test as part of their screening process,” said Hurst. “They found that anyone who earned a bronze or lower was unable to meet the demands of the job and consequently would not be hired. Applicants were encouraged to retake the test to try for a silver. That seemed to be the mark companies were looking for.”
Out of the students who took the test, Hurst said most got above a bronze. In total, 36 students took the WorkKeys test (16 from Hurst’s class and 20 from others). Of these, 10 students earned a bronze level, 15 earned silver level, six earned gold level and five earned platinum. According to Hurst, the benefits of the WorkKeys test is long term in order for students and businesses to see the value in it.
“There are other ways for employers to see if a worker is qualified for a job,” said Hurst. “This is just a test, similar to the ACT, but instead of colleges, it tells employers how qualified someone is versus like what skills they have demonstrated in the past. I guess there hasn’t been a standardized way to measure this kind of baseline knowledge before when you’re going out for a job. I think in particular where this helps is for businesses because it gives them an idea what kind of skill level a potential employee has.”
For Hurst, the purpose of the test is to give students an opportunity to take it and boost their chances to get a job. Not only that, but it puts them in contact with the Missouri Career Center.
“My students are now familiar with a representative from the Missouri Career Center,” said Hurst. “Once they graduate, if they’re looking for work, that is going to be a place where they’ll go. They’ve already done the assessments and registered through the MOJobs website. The MOJobs registration is another requirement to take the test, and it’ll be an excellent resource when they’re looking for a job.”
For more information about the WorkKeys test, visit act.org/workkeys.