New Pittsburgh: The dating game
Local Web start-up devises online way to match employers with the workers they want
Thursday, June 22, 2000
By Jim McKay, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
You’ve got Jobs!
Students and entry-level job seekers may soon see that e-mail pop up on their computer screens if a local start-up succeeds with its new Internet system that matches employers with people who have the right skills. The online employment-matching system, Keys2Work, was developed by Pittsburgh-based Lyceum Group in cooperation with education and training organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania.
It’s based on a skills assessment, a sort of SAT or college board exam for the world of work, and corresponding profiles of hundreds of actual jobs. Both the skills assessment and the job profiles were developed by ACT Inc., the non-profit scholastic achievement testing firm formerly known as American College Testing.
The project has the potential to end the often awkward blind dating between first-time job candidates and employers.
That’s particularly true for companies that complain schools fail to deliver them work-ready candidates or that they can’t gauge whether workers have the right skills until after they are hired.
“It provides a common language, a measuring stick for both job seekers and employers, and it allows those who do the brokering to guide people along the way,” said Rob Rogers, an early supporter of workplace skills testing here and executive director of the Commission for Workforce Excellence.
If the project succeeds, employers will have a tool to identify an applicant’s proficiencies in the fundamental skills necessary for all jobs — reading, math and information gathering. It also will help them recruit employees from a pool of candidates who meet those requirements.
For job seekers, the skills test can help them discover their strengths and weaknesses — information that can be used to explore careers and options they may not otherwise consider.
The system, once in full swing, may give work-force professionals and educators a better picture of Pittsburgh’s labor market, including the skills that are in demand and how that demand can be better met by schools and training programs.
It’s all a tall order, but David Mosey, president of the Lyceum Group, believes he and his partner in Keys2Work, industrial psychologist Barry Nathan, are well on their way.
Mosey and Nathan, who helped ACT develop the testing and job-profiling system used by Keys2Work, want their venture to be a national purveyor of work-force testing and hope it eventually will be as common as the SAT and other college achievement tests.
They have signed agreements with Syracuse University in New York, South Suburban Community College in Chicago and a Workforce Investment Board in East Arkansas. Other communities in Virginia and Florida are looking at it.
“The opportunity here is to grow something super-successful in Pittsburgh and replicate it elsewhere,” said Mosey, a work-force preparedness consultant who got involved in adult education as a trade school instructor. “Other regions are all waiting to see what we do.”
The Web site, www.keys2work.com, is up and running, and this week the assessment exam became available to job seekers through CareerLink, the state’s new employment service site at the Regional Enterprise Tower, Downtown. It will soon be available at the CareerLink site in McKeesport.
The three-hour pencil and paper test will be administered by Goodwill Industries of Pittsburgh, a CareerLink partner. It includes applied math and reading comprehension questions and will be scored by Community College of Allegheny County.
Patricia Petrosky, Goodwill’s vice president of human services, dislikes the word exam, preferring instead assessment, so as not to scare off any of the 1,000 job seekers who visit the CareerLink office Downtown every month. Participation is voluntary.
“Right now, we’re trying to get job seekers interested in becoming a part of this effort,” Petrosky said. “You can’t pass or fail this test. This just gives them a profile of their skill sets.”
Employers, of course, are a big piece of the puzzle.
Mosey and Ron Painter, executive director of the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, are working to recruit employers to join the system and post their available jobs with descriptions and skill requirements. Mosey said discussions have been held with UPMC Health System, Eat’n Park, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Mellon and PNC banks.
“The really exciting thing for us is that the Lyceum Group is here,” Painter said. “This is not some exotic product from somewhere else. The people who make this work are here in Pittsburgh.”
His organization, a joint venture between the city and Allegheny County, is charged with developing a strategic plan for allocating federal funds to institutions and programs that provide job training and employment services. It must then track how well those programs and services are working.
More employers participating in the Keys2Work system will give a better picture of what the work force investment board wants to know, Painter said. “What skills are being used in Pittsburgh; what’s the demand for those skills; and can we meet that demand?”
Employers will not, at least initially, be required to pay for the service, thanks to support from the Heinz Endowment to the Commission for Workforce Excellence, Mosey said.
“Taking tests is useless to a business unless you deliver them qualified recruits to their door- step, and that’s why the foundation supports helps so much,” Mosey said.
Participating employers would receive a list of job seekers who meet minimum skill requirements for certain work. But, for privacy reasons, they would not receive an individual’s exact scores. The employers would then be encouraged to get in touch with the job seekers, who would likewise receive names of possible employers through a “You’ve got Jobs” e-mail.
There are profiles — a description of specific tasks and required skills — of nearly 1,000 jobs in the data bank, as well as minimum test scores. Most of the job profiles have been developed nationally, but local employers may have the option of devising their own.
Petrosky sees value for job applicants in career awareness. The matching system can be used by someone who wants to be an administrative assistant, for example, and doesn’t know what specific skill sets are needed.
The person could take the exam, get their scores and then match their scores against the job profiles, she said. “They can identify their needs, become more aware of jobs. ‘Is this a career that I want? If so, what do I have to do to prepare?’ ”
The project faces a dilemma common to Internet companies. Mosey has built the online delivery system, which is what Keys2Work is, but now he must sell the idea to business, schools and other training institutions.
The project has support from Steve Mitchell, director of Workforce Connections, which was set up to implement the findings of a 1998 report by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenburg and the Working Together Consortium, a group of civic and business leaders seeking to accelerate growth in southwestern Pennsylvania.
That report recommended the region develop an organized way of preparing skilled workers for growing companies through training, linking companies to job prospects and coordinating efforts of economic development agencies, educators, employers and trainers.
Mitchell said three key things need to be in place for Keys2Work to be successful. People need to take the assessment test. Employers must come on board. And training must be available for those who will require it.
“The pieces are there. They just have to be put together,” he said. “Absent those three pieces, any one of them isn’t enough to make this system work.”