White: WorkKeys certificates growing in north Louisiana

In case you have not yet heard, there is a robust workforce development tool that is starting to create a buzz in North Louisiana and it’s called WorkKeys.  Developed by the college and career readiness testing company ACT, WorkKeys is a measure of work readiness, and its sister the ACT is a measure of 4-year college readiness. WorkKeys has been used by companies to assess a candidate’s likelihood of success in specific occupations for well over a decade, but until recently it was mostly unknown by employers, job seekers and most everyone else in North Louisiana. This is changing quickly due to the outreach efforts of the North Louisiana Ready2Work team, made up of over 25 organizations in Bossier, Caddo, DeSoto and Webster parishes who completed the ACT Work Ready Communities training over the last nine months.

For students who are interested in going to work after they graduate high school, and for those who are planning to enroll in community or technical college, the WorkKeys assessment makes a bit more sense. Truly, it is a good fit for most students because so many have jobs while attending college to help make ends meet or earn valuable work experience. And we are seeing an increasing number of students graduating high school and college with their WorkKeys certificate.

In 2016, the Louisiana Department of Education began covering the cost for the WorkKeys assessment primarily for students in grade 11 who are on track for a Jump Start Diploma, the career and technical education pathway implemented in Louisiana high schools over the last several years. Some school districts have chosen to cover the cost of these assessments for a wider range of students. As of July 31, the ACT Work Ready Communities website shows over 3,100 WorkKeys certificates have been awarded to high school students in Bossier, Caddo, DeSoto and Webster parishes. That number is expected to grow at an increasing rate as educators learn more about the tool and how to explain its value to students.

Community and technical colleges are increasingly incorporating WorkKeys into training curriculum, like the AAS in Physical Therapist Assistant program and the Industrial Readiness Training Program at Bossier Parish Community College. After participating in the ACT Work Ready Communities training as part of the North Louisiana Ready2Work team, Northwest Louisiana Technical College (NWLTC) got busy this summer and developed an entirely new entry-level course that all incoming students will take and that has WorkKeys and the ACT-designed WorkKeys training curriculum as its foundation.  Moving forward, every graduate of NWLTC’s 3 campuses should have a WorkKeys certificate.

Educators, workforce and economic developers, chambers of commerce and local government in North Louisiana are investing time and energy in getting the word out to businesses in this region that they need to know what the WorkKeys tool is and how they can use it in their recruitment, hiring, training and promotion processes. There will be more job candidates with a WorkKeys certificate on their resume and understanding what it stands for could mean the difference in making a good rather than a bad hire. And that translates into recruitment dollars saved, productivity gained and a bigger bottom line.

Angie White is Senior VP of Workforce Strategy & Administration for the North Louisiana Economic Partnership (NLEP)