At a time when many companies are struggling with skill shortages, Racing Toward New Opportunities seemed a fitting theme for the eleventh annual WorkKeys® National Conference, held in Indianapolis, in April.
The conference drew leaders in education, business, workforce development, economic development, and government from 37 states. Representatives from a number of high-level companies presented, including Honda, Armstrong World Industries, Eastman Chemical Company, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, First Quality (formerly Covidien), PGT Industries, Inova Health System, Toray Carbon Fibers, and Solvay Paperboard.
Teresa Voors, commissioner, Indiana Department of Workforce Development, and Martin Scaglione, president and chief operating officer, ACT Workforce Development Division, pause for a photo at the WorkKeys National Conference. Voors was one of three keynote speakers at the conference.
Attendees heard from three keynote speakers: Roger Sampson, president of Education Commission of the States; Larry Crane, director of Workforce Education and Development, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding Gulf Coast; and Teresa Voors, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. They also participated in numerous sessions divided into four tracks: Business and Industry, Education and Training, Economic and Workforce Development, and Product Training.
Sampson discussed the importance of high schools offering WorkKeys so they can better prepare students for college and the workforce. He recommended that high schools give WorkKeys in addition to the ACT® test and use the two ACT-approved curriculums from KeyTrain® and WIN, which are designed specifically as instructional curriculum to improve skills in Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics, and Locating Information.
WorkKeys has been great for aligning workforce skills with specific jobs and profiling, but its not just for people who are transitioning into the workforce, he said. These assessments are geared as much toward college-bound students as they are toward students leaving high school and going directly into the workforce. ACT research has shown that development of work-ready and college-ready skill sets requires equal rigor.
87 (a record; 72 were chosen for the conference)
Total attendance: 587
First-time attendees: 394 (67% of total)
Attendees by states:
North Carolina: 52
South Carolina: 28
New York: 17
All others: 142
While educators across the country have raised the bar in terms of rigor, students have not been required to demonstrate or apply their skills outside of the classroom, said Sampson.
We are learning that it is not just about the skills taught, but how teachers assess or check for proficiency of those skills. Students WorkKeys results identify their ability to apply skills and align performance to particular careers, said Sampson.
Voors supported the idea of providing WorkKeys in schools. She touched on the topic of education pays, noting that Indiana residents with bachelors degrees and beyond earn nearly double the income of those who dont have a high school diploma.
Upwards of 1.2 million employed Indiana residents have literacy skills below the minimum standard required for successful employment in a knowledge-based economy. Such an economy increasingly depends on knowledge, information, and high skill levels, and ready access to all three by business and public sectors. By 2014, there will be an additional 222,410 high-wage, high-demand jobs in Indiana that require at least a postsecondary degree, she added. The type of degree will depend on the jobsome will require as little as an associates degree, while others will demand as much as a doctorate.
Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels strategy has been to grow jobs, increase personal income, and provide high-quality employment services to workers, said Voors. He has achieved these goals by forming a regional system with strategic partnerships among officials in education, workforce development, and economic development.
Nearly 600 people from 37 states attended this years WorkKeys National Conference held in Indianapolis. More than half of the participants attended the conference for the first time.
Crane talked about the value of WorkKeys to employers from a human resources standpoint. His company, Northrop Grumman, a defense contractor for the U.S. Navy and shipbuilder for private industry, has incorporated WorkKeys into its employee retention and training processes.
The company began using WorkKeys to assess incumbent workers and help them develop educational plans. Employee participation at that point was on a volunteer basis. Today, the company requires all candidates for the apprentice program (with the exception of machinist) to take the WorkKeys assessments. Its engineering department requires WorkKeys for all candidates in the drafting design apprentice program.
Through U.S. Department of Labor grants, Northrop Grumman has established a WorkKeys profile and assessment center at its Pascagoula and New Orleans locations. The company has converted more than 80 courses to self-paced computer-assisted instruction so workers can develop and improve their skills.
I am now spending more money training incumbent workers for exactly what they need, rather than hoping I am being effective, said Crane. WorkKeys gives me an exact target to shoot for; prior to WorkKeys, I was shooting in the dark at a moving target.
Crane encouraged educators and industry personnel who are involved in the education process to work with their states and support work readiness programs. Once employers learn to use WorkKeys, and the high schools and colleges give the assessments, students will have a passport that will get them into the workplace, said Crane.