ACT's CEO Presents at National Workforce Conference5/14/2009
Workers' skills put to the test
By L.A. Lorek - San Antonio Express-News
The nation needs more skilled workers as baby boomers retire and global competition heats up, according to Richard Ferguson, chief executive officer of ACT Inc.
The nonprofit organization, which created the 50-year-old college readiness test bearing its name, also administers a workplace job skills assessment called WorkKeys.
“Every year, 1.2 million students leave our nation's schools at age 16,'' Ferguson said during a speech Wednesday at ACT's national conference that runs through Friday, May 15 at the Hyatt Regency downtown.
“In the last five years, we've seen 6 million students leave our nation's schools without a high school diploma,'' he said. “We cannot accept this.”
Good jobs stay where skilled workers are, Ferguson said. If those skills don't exist in the United States, they will go where the skilled workers are, he said.
“We know it is a small borderless world,'' he said.
In the last decade, the United States has shown a decline in skills development, Ferguson said, underscoring an urgent need to increase the skill level of American workers. The Obama administration and the current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan understand that, he said.
ACT created its rapidly growing “National Career Readiness Certificate,” launched in 2006, to help companies assess and train workers. The National Association of Manufacturing in March adopted the certificate to provide a credentialing system.
“We created a work force credential people can rally around as a common measure to gauge the readiness of the work force,'' Ferguson said. It doesn't replace a high school diploma or college degree. The certification program tests workers for “real world” skills that translate to job success.
To do that, ACT does a job analysis or profiles the job to identify its skill requirements. ACT has more than 16,000 job profiles in its database covering 85 percent of all jobs in the United States, said Martin L. Scaglione, ACT's president of work force development.
“It includes everything from aerospace engineers to zookeepers,'' Scaglione said. “It's important that people need to understand what skills they have.”
Employers use the certificate for screening job applicants, promoting workers and targeting employees for additional training and development, Scaglione said.
The career readiness certificate is based on workers' performance on WorkKeys, which measures aptitude in reading, math and locating of information. Workers who pass receive a gold, silver or bronze certificate, depending on how well they perform. ACT also recently introduced a platinum certificate for the highest achievement level. ACT lists almost 200,000 certificate earners in its database.
“Locating information using graphically presented information to solve workplace problems is the hardest part of the test for most people,” said Les Harrison with KeyTrain, based in Cary, N.C. Both KeyTrain and Worldwide Interactive Network, known as WIN, partner with ACT to train employees who lack the skills needed to pass the test.
E & J Gallo Winery partnered with ACT to test 139 employees who mainly worked in the winery or operated machines, said J.B. Martin, its operations manager.
The Modesto, Calif.-based winery found the tests resulted in a 23 percent increase in productivity and an almost 19 percent drop in hiring of new employees. Overall, the company reported testing and training systems saved it $269,699 annually. “We reduced the number of employees we needed by increasing productivity,'' Martin said.