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FEATURE STORY

Put to the test A CVTC-led coalition wants Eau Claire County to become an ACT Work Ready Community

By Andrew Dowd, Leader-Telegram staff

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andidates can get a job with an impeccable resume, suave interview and stellar references. They passed the hiring process, but that isn’t necessarily the best way to tell if someone will thrive in a workplace. Sometimes an ace candidate can surprisingly become a drag on your businesses’ team for the lack of “soft skills” – those intangible traits that get the job done well. Wouldn’t it be great to know how well an employee can apply academics to real-world work situations, read graphs and charts, and pick out crucial information from lengthy company documents before hiring that person? As it turns out, Wisconsin has been using a nationally recognized test to gauge those skills in high schoolers for a few years now, but many employers didn’t know about it. Lynette Livingston learned about the test from her children and several teachers she knows, but when she asked how scores from the state-mandated test will help after high school, the reply was “I don’t know, nobody’s asking for it.” “It seemed like a significant investment of state resources, but it’s falling short of the benefits because employers weren’t aware of it,” she said. Livingston decided to make the test and awareness of it the subject of her dissertation for her doctoral degree in career and technical education at UW-Stout. “What I found was we certainly had very limited employer awareness of the WorkKeys assessment and National Career Readiness Certification in our region,” she said. She surveyed 95 employers in the region about their familiarity with the soft skills test and certification. Of those, 88 percent replied they had either no or minimal knowledge of WorkKeys, and 92 percent said they were unfamiliar with the corresponding certificates. But about 90 percent responded that they saw the value of such measures of an employee’s soft skills. In her position as dean of business, arts, sciences and academic initiatives at Chippewa Valley Technical College, Livingston is working with colleagues in education, business groups and companies to spread the word about the test that gauges soft skills. Their intent is to get Eau Claire County named the first

12 | BUSINESS LEADER • April 2, 2018

Work Ready Community in Wisconsin — an honor that testing company ACT bestows on areas that meet certain goals.

Getting there The designation shows that a community has achieved benchmarks in testing students and workers, along with a level of awareness in the area’s business community. Eau Claire County automatically achieved one of those goals — getting enough high school students to take WorkKeys — because the test has been mandated throughout the state since spring 2015. During the spring semester, juniors take the wellknown ACT test for college admission and then have the WorkKeys test the following day. The workplace readiness test takes about three hours and is split up into three units – applied math, graphic literacy and workplace documents. Passing the test gives students an ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate to show their level of work readiness. Certificates range from bronze to platinum level to indicate the score that individual students earned. In the Eau Claire school district, about 90 percent of students earn platinum, gold or silver certificates from their WorkKeys scores, said Michelle Radtke, the district’s director of assessments. Eau Claire students took the test before spring break and will get their paper certificates mailed to them near the end of the school year. The tougher goal that ACT set for Eau Claire County is to get a certain amount of the business community to learn about the certificates students have and recognize how they could be useful in the hiring process. “We need to have 66 employers that identify as supporting the NCRC,” Livingston said. Those can come from within the county and a 25-mile radius of it. So far more than 15 companies have agreed, said Jeff Sullivan, CVTC’s dean of skilled trades and engineering, and he’s gotten information to many more who are considering it. For employers he’s talked to, Sullivan said the response has been positive.

Profile for Leader Telegram

Business Leader | Spring 2018  

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