ByLyn E. Haralson
The biggest challenge facing Arkansas employers and economic developers actively recruiting industry to our state is the gap between the current workforce and the job skills needed by employers. To stay competitive in the global market, solutions are necessary to better align workers’ skills with the high-skill, high-wage jobs of the 21st century. Three letters have come to represent a large part of the solution: CRC, the Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate. The Arkansas Career Readiness Certificate is a portable credential based on WorkKeys® assessments that demonstrate to employers that the person before them possesses the basic workplace skills.
The WorkKeys job skills assessment is a product from a familiar college assessment company, ACT, Inc. The assessment measures real-world skills that employers believe are critical to job success. The skills measured by WorkKeys are valuable for any occupation that’s skilled or professional and at any level of education. WorkKeys uses a comprehensive procedure for measuring, communicating and improving common skills. There are nine skill areas: reading for information, applied mathematics, information location, applied technology, business writing, listening, observation, teamwork and writing. Of these areas, the Arkansas CRC focuses on three skills: reading for information, applied mathematics and locating information.
Assessment can be scary for an active employee or for someone looking for work. To alleviate some of that anxiety, the state uses KeyTrain®, which is a pre-WorkKeys instructional tool that helps prepare individuals for the WorkKeys assessments. KeyTrain is the first step toward achieving an Arkansas CRC.
The CRC has been made possible through a collaboration between key agencies and institutions that resulted in the following organizations joining the effort: Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, Arkansas Workforce Investment Board, Arkansas Department of Career Education, Arkansas Association of Two Year Colleges, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the Arkansas Department of Education. Working together, they have forged a system to meet the needs of current and future employers, as well as current and future workers. The program targets first and foremost the unemployed followed by the underemployed. The program is free to anyone who wishes to participate.
The Arkansas CRC program uses results from the WorkKeys assessments to award certificates in three categories: gold, silver and bronze. The gold-level certificate signifies that an individual has scored at least a level 5 in each of the three core areas prioritized by the State of Arkansas and has the necessary skills for 90 percent of the 14,000 jobs in the WorkKeys database. The silver-level certificate signifies that an individual has scored at least a level 4 in each of the three core areas and has the necessary skills for 65 percent of the jobs in the WorkKeys database. The bronze-level certificate signifies that an individual has scored at least a level 3 in each of the three core areas and has the necessary skills for 35 percent of the jobs in the WorkKeys database. Each certificate is signed by the Arkansas governor and the director of the Department of Workforce Services. These certificates serve as a complement to diplomas, degrees and resumes. They are not grade-level equivalents.
Steve Sparks with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission says that the CRC is critical to employers. The CRC certificate tells an employer that an applicant can actually do what he or she professes. Employers report that CRC holders are higher quality candidates than other applicants. Overall, employers using the CRC as part of their hiring criteria package have seen reduced turnover ratios, reduced training and remediation training time, and significantly reduced interview ratios. LM Glasfiber (one of Arkansas’ new providers of green jobs) was one of the first employers to use the CRC, says the company’s Jamie Smith, who adds that it has been extremely beneficial. Smith said that the company uses the CRC in their hiring criteria today. She said it helps assure them the candidates have the skills they need. While confidence in an employee’s ability to do a job effectively is a key desire, Stacy Gunderman with FutureFuel Chemical Company said that, “We are adding money back to the bottom line without sacrificing the quality of our applicant pool.” Gunderman further stated that her company is thrilled with the results they have seen from the program. Since the program is free to both employee and employer, the risk of participation is non-existent, but the rewards are bankable.
According to Sparks and other employers interviewed for this piece, the certificate is effective beyond the initial hiring. Employers can use the CRC skills assessments throughout an employee’s tenure to best match the person with the right skills to the open positions for promotion. The CRC is not currently offered to incumbent workers or employers who want to assess their current workforce's skills. However, an employee may contact the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services office individually about using the program. The department does not have the capability at present to accommodate multiple requests from employers to assess their existing workforce.
Employers also report that having a certificate has another beneficial effect. The prospects and employees can receive increased confidence and potential for promotion by having a certificate. The individual is more assured of his or her skill set and can be in a better position for advancement.
|Arkansas Career Readiness Certificates Awarded to Date: 17,860|