~ originally published in the Journal of Business on July 14, 2011 ~
The Spokane Area Workforce Development Council is spearheading Work Ready Spokane, an initiative to combat unemployment locally.
The initiative is centered on a program called WorkKeys, a test that measures work-related skills in three core areas: reading for information, applied mathematics, and locating information. The purpose of the test is to provide employers with an objective assessment of potential employees or for assessing promotion decisions inside a company.
Brian Burrows, a project manager for the Workforce Development Council who is involved in Work Ready, says companies that have used the test have found that it helps to decrease employee turnover and ultimately increases workplace safety and enhances productivity. Specifically, he says, it has been beneficial in the manufacturing and aerospace industries, and for non-doctoral trained medical positions.
Triumph Composite Systems, a Spokane-based aerospace manufacturing company, brought WorkKeys into the workplace four years ago and has experienced positive results, says Mike Shelstrate, the company’s director of human resources and facilities. He says the company is receiving better candidates for job positions, and the company has few problems with the people they decide to hire.
“WorkKeys has helped expedite our hiring process, which allows us to reduce our costs; more importantly, we are confident this assessment tool has increased the quality of candidates we interview and ultimately have hired,” Shelstrate says.
The person taking the test can earn a National Career Readiness Certificate at one of four levels—bronze, silver, gold, or platinum—based on test scores. The certificate level accepted varies by company and by position.
Companies can use the test as a hard-line credential in specific cases, or as a preferred credential when considering applicants, Burrows says. Currently, Goodrich Corp., Kaiser Aluminum Corp., and Triumph in the Spokane area recognize the certificate in their hiring processes. The test also has been implemented in area high schools to prepare students for the demand of future employers.
ACT Inc., the Iowa City-based company that offers the widely accepted college-aptitude test, developed WorkKeys and first used it in the Midwestern U.S. States on the East Coast have since embraced the program, and the next step is to get West Coast companies to see the value of the test and invest in it, Burrows says.
In the Spokane area, Worksource Spokane and Humanix administer the WorkKeys test, which is comprised of three sections. Each section has 35 multiple choice questions and takes 55 minutes to complete. Test scores are released at the end of the testing period, which averages about four hours, Burrows says.