Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Article Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Sunday, September 29, 2002
By Linda Dickerson
Perspectives: Skills assessment key to improving job placement
The gap between the business community and the K-12 education community continues to widen. Both communities speak different languages and both cast blame on each other for the problems that exist in each of their worlds.
As a small step towards closing this gap, local nonprofit Keys2Work created a skills-based career development and job matching system that enables area high schoolers to see how the skills that they are developing relate to the world of work. “It’s the SAT for the workplace,” explains Keys2Work Executive Director David Mosey.
Linda A. Dickerson is a principal in Dickerson & Mangus Ink., an issues consulting firm. Her column appears weekly.
Mosey believes that once students understand how what they are learning in school links to the jobs to which they aspire, their dedication to learning increases substantially. “They’ve never seen their academics related to work, and they’ve never seen their academics related to earning power,” Mosey said.
Keys2Work uses the WorkKeys assessment developed by ACT to help students to determine how well prepared they are for the jobs that interest them. The system documents their work skills in key areas.
This provides employers specific insights to their prospective new employee’s capabilities, and these insights give the prospective employee an advantage in the hiring process. Employers are much more interested in hiring a known commodity.
The WorkKeys assessments consist of three separate 45-minute tests that measure a student’s ability to read for information, locate information and apply mathematics. Generally administered at the 10th grade level, the WorkKeys assessments provide feedback to students in time for them to refocus their academic energies before graduation.
Mosey said students use their test scores as a guide to redirect their studies and improve their knowledge in areas in which they are deficient.
As students perfect certain skills, they can document their newly developed competencies by scoring higher on the WorkKeys assessments — helping improve their opportunities with prospective employers.
“We really want to be about opening doors,” Mosey said, adding that pertains to the business community as well, where employers need to appreciate and endorse Keys2Work.
First, the business community must supply ACT with information to profile available job types. Already, more than 1,000 job types are listed.
ACT takes the information about every job and updates it every three years, Mosey said. “The process is rigorous, but simple. We ask employers what’s required on the job.”
Once they understand the job requirements, ACT develops the assessment tools for children to use in evaluating their own ability to meet these requirements. Once they identify their skill gaps, students can download from their computers a customized Skill Improvement Plan that meets their individual needs.
“By relating the importance of academics to children, we know that they’ll improve,” Mosey said.
At many schools, “children are not regularly concentrating on improving their skills in the areas that will best equip them to be employed ultimately in the discipline of their choice.”
For 10,000 10th-graders in the nine counties that Keys2Work serves, this will no longer be true. These students will take the WorkKeys assessment.
To obtain the most basic of jobs, students must score at a level 3 or above on the WorkKeys exams. Unfortunately, Mosey estimates that about 10 percent of the children in Pittsburgh Public Schools fall below that level. In other words, about one in 10 graduates are not adequately prepared to succeed in entry-level employment.
The first step in resolving such a problem is defining it, and that’s where WorkKeys comes in. Both young people and employees are well served by this approach.