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Now, Iowa job seekers can go for the Gold


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Sue Allyn got an enthusiastic response from her hiring managers when she told them they’ll soon have a tool besides personal interviews to evaluate prospective employees’ skills.

Her organization, Iowa Health – Des Moines, is among the first Greater Des Moines employers that will accept Career Readiness Certificates. The skills evaluation program, which uses three standardized tests developed by Iowa City-based ACT Inc., enables job applicants to bring an assessment-based certificate with them when they apply for a job.

“I haven’t seen anything that has caught the interest of management like this has,” said Allyn, Iowa Health’s vice president for human resources. “Our facility managers are very excited to be able to have this.”

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) is offering the program on a one-year trial basis in five regions of the state, using a $500,000 appropriation the Legislature approved earlier this year. Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) is IWD’s partner in offering the program to Central Iowa employers.

Skills lacking

Sixteen states have already implemented a statewide Career Readiness Certificate (CRC) program, and Iowa is among 19 other states in the process of doing so, according to the National Organization for Career Credentialing.

According to a recent American Management Association survey, 38 percent of job applicants taking employer-administered tests lacked the reading and math skills needed for the jobs for which they applied.

The CRC program will issue Gold, Silver and Bronze certificates, based on a person’s performance on three tests that will assess their abilities in reading for information, applied mathematics and locating information.

Iowa Health will initially use the certificates to evaluate candidates for jobs that don’t require a college degree, such as food service or other entry-level positions, Allyn said.

“When you come to us with a college degree, I can pretty much know what to expect,” Allyn said, “but that’s more difficult for positions not requiring degrees. This certification will tell me how well they can read and comprehend, how well they can use math.”

Employers can choose whether to require one or more of the tests for a particular position. The tests are based on profiles developed by ACT on more than 12,000 jobs across the country to determine the skills and skill levels needed to succeed in them.

Iowa Workforce Development has used ACT WorkKeys, which is the basis of the CRC, for a number of years to provide customized assessment tests for employers, said IWD spokeswoman Kerry Koonce. The CRC program provides a more standardized testing approach for skills common to many positions, she said.

The program, which is funded through June 30, 2009, is already under way in Sioux City and Dubuque, and following its launch in Des Moines, will be rolled out in Burlington and Southeast Iowa.

Employer feedback

Kirkwood Community College has offered the program to employers in the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor since January 2006 under the name Skills Advantage, and will now repackage it under the CRC banner.

“We started off with a dozen employers (that accept the certificates),” said Amy Lasack, director of Kirkwood Training and Outreach Services. “Now we have over 100. So it’s been a pretty successful program in our region. We’re excited that it’s going to be moving to other regions across the state.”

Lasack said Kirkwood’s regional effort began with feedback from companies that indicated their employees needed more core skills. “Based on that, we did more research on what other regions of the country were doing, and that led us to ACT, which is right in our back yard.”

Over the past 2 1/2 years, approximately 2,200 individuals have tested for the certificates through Kirkwood, with about 2,000 certificates issued in that time, she said. “Quite a few” individuals who initially didn’t pass a test have taken remedial courses and successfully retaken the exam to earn a certificate; others have stepped up to a higher-level certificate, Lasack said.

Sue Gibbons, Career Pathways coordinator at DMACC, said her initial goal is to get 25 employers on board with the program. “Our job is to let job seekers know which employers recognize the certificate,” she said.

DMACC began offering the tests at its Ankeny and Urban campuses on Nov. 1 and plans to expand that to its Newton, Carroll and Ames campuses on Jan. 1. Testing will also begin Dec. 1 at IWD’s office at 430 E. Grand Ave. in Des Moines.

“Here at DMACC, our plan is to partner (the CRC program) with one or two of our degree programs, so that students will also graduate with their Career Readiness Certificate,” Gibbons said. “The plan is to pilot it with a couple of programs this spring, and then perhaps go collegewide with it in future years.”

Allyn said the program should enable Iowa Health to evaluate existing employees for advancement as well as prospective hires.

“That would be a future endeavor, and not right out of the box,” she said. “We have used testing for promotions in the past. This would give us something a lot more consistent, a lot more predictable. They say that interviews are the worst predictor for success in a job; to have something else would be just great.”

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