Initiative targets workforce assessment


A new initiative is leveraging an existing assessment tool in educational and workforce agency procedures to help employers validate job candidates’ work-ready skills.

Individuals representing Talent 2025, Michigan Works!, educational institutions, Michigan employers and Gov. Rick Snyder met last week at Gentex Corp. in Zeeland to announce the launch of the Michigan Work Ready Communities Initiative.

The initiative is part of the nationwide ACT Work Ready Community effort empowering states with assessment tools to measure and close the skills gap prevalent in the current job market. As one of the 17 states using the ACT WRC framework, the Michigan effort coordinates workforce and education performance with the needs of employers by providing counties with a standard assessment tool to evaluate an individual’s credentials and ability to perform a specific job.

Kevin Stotts, president of Grand Rapids-based Talent 2025, said the initiative gives employers one more tool in the toolbox to help identify talent using a third-party validated credential.

“Those skills are most often cited by employers, especially employers looking for entry level talent,” said Stotts in reference to the three WorkKeys’ skill areas. “This is one more great tool for employers who are already saying they can’t find qualified candidates, and for the talent themselves, it really provides them with evidence to an employer they have a skill set that would allow them to succeed.”

With a purpose of developing a work-ready talented workforce, the initiative encourages businesses to hire individuals who have an ACT National Career Readiness Certificate. The ACT NCRC is a nationally recognized workplace credential requiring individuals to take three ACT WorkKeys assessments to measure key elements including applied mathematics, reading comprehension and locating information. Based on performance, individuals are awarded a platinum, gold, silver or bronze level certificate.

Upon identifying the ACT Workkeys and NCRC as a leading practice, Stotts said Talent 2025 played a convening role in bringing together stakeholders from across the state to discuss how to leverage the certificate and implement a Work Ready Communities initiative in West Michigan.

“It was a natural fit because of Michigan’s extensive use of the NCRC,” said Stotts. “We knew there would be a great supply of certificate holders, and we also thought because the initiative brings together employers, community colleges, workforce developments, economic development and education, it could be a unifying force to really leverage the investment the state of Michigan has made in the NCRC and WorkKeys.”

Snyder said the Michigan Work Ready Communities Initiative is another step for improving the quality of the workforce in the state.

“It is important that Michigan’s government, private industry and our educational system work together to find innovative solutions to continue to be relevant in the global competition for business,” said Snyder in a press release. “This program is the right move for our state. It provides a universal system of assessing workers’ skills and abilities for employers, as well as promoting workers’ development and improvement.”

Deborah Lyzenga, business services manager at Michigan Works! Kent and Allegan Counties, said the foundation of the initiative began years ago through a WIRED grant to create a standard tool assessing educational performance related to business needs.

“It lost steam and then recently has come back within the last couple of years, because of the employer demand and the skills gap everyone is talking about,” said Lyzenga. “The WorkKeys is a tool to measure the cognitive readiness of someone who is entering the workplace.”

With the establishment of the ACT WorkKeys assessments in high school systems across the state since 2009, Lyzenga said the challenge now is educating students, individuals, employers and organizations on the value of the credentials of the tests.

“The students didn’t really know they were taking the test. They weren’t educated on what WorkKeys could do for them if they were deciding they didn’t want to go to college and wanted to go directly into the workforce,” said Lyzenga.

“Then we had the employer who is saying, ‘How can I effectively measure how much a student knows?’ So now this group is starting to put those two pieces together."

With the announcement last week to launch the effort, Lyzenga said the recent focus has been on communicating with employers the benefits of using WorkKeys as a preference in their hiring practices.

“For Monday, it was an announcement that all the pieces are in place, and now we are inviting employers to come and join us,” said Lyzenga. “We have 30 employers who have signed on to the website in support of making WorkKeys a preference in their hiring practices. This initiative is going to be a great help to employers in identifying good potential candidates for the workplace and closing that skills gap we are talking about across the state.”

Members of the MiWRC initiative include state government representatives, organizations and employers, such as: Talent 2025, Wolverine Coil Spring Co., Michigan Works!, Area Community Services Employment and Training Council, Lakeshore Advantage, Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Muskegon Community College, Ottawa Intermediate School District, Kent Intermediate School District and Grand Rapids Community College.

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