Test may ferret out best workers to hire

Employers seem to be spending more time these days bemoaning why their new employees show up late for work, don’t listen and aren’t ready to work when they get there.

The top 10 skills an entry-level job seeker or worker should possess, according to the Equipped for the Future project:

1. Speaks so others can understand.

2. Listens attentively.

3. Reads with understanding.

4. Observes critically.

5. Cooperates with others.

6. Resolves conflicts and negotiates.

7. Uses math to solve problems and communicate.

8. Solves problems and makes decisions.

9. Takes responsibility for learning.

10. Uses information and communications technology.

But instead of wringing their hands, business leaders are hoping to achieve more maturity in the work force through a testing program.

“It’s not really rocket science. It’s understanding the value of showing up on time to work and ready to work,” said John Knutsen, co-owner of Express Personnel in Lynnwood and past chairman of the Snohomish County Workforce Development Council.

“The issue,” he said, “becomes, can you teach that or test that?”

A national effort claims it can, and the result will be the launch of a “work readiness credential” in the county in spring 2006.

Express Personnel was one of 70 state employers that took a survey two years ago on what they wanted in new workers – such as communication, interpersonal, decision-making and lifelong learning skills.

The credential will be awarded to people who pass a test and will help job seekers show prospective employers that they have the skills and understand how to apply them on the job.

The test will be reviewed and refined this fall, with training materials being developed into next year, before the launch.

Started two years ago as part of the National Institute for Literacy’s Equipped for the Future initiative, the credential project is now under the coordination of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Washington is one of five states and the District of Columbia driving the effort, contributing $350,000 from a combination of public and private sources. Snohomish County Workforce Development Council is contributing $50,000.

“The need is overwhelming,” said Rin Causey, president of the council. “Across the board, regardless of industry, businesses are asking for higher levels of maturity among those entering the work force.”

More than half of Snohomish County employers surveyed by the council in 2004 reported difficulty recruiting entry-level workers. Communication and problem-solving were among the skills most lacking.

It mirrors a survey by the state Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, which is leading the state’s involvement in the credential project. Statewide, one in four employers reported difficulty finding qualified workers. Of those, 85 percent said such skills were lacking.

The credential will not only help ease the hiring process, but also cut down on training and rehiring costs, said Pam Lund, associate director of the state work force board. “It’s a retention issue.”

To earn the credential, workers will have to pass a four-part online test of reading, math, problem solving and other skills. Most of sections are multiple choice, including one that covers real-work situations such as dealing with a difficult co-worker and has test takers pick the most and least effective options.

An oral test then has them listen to a question and respond in a way that shows they understood.

In all, the test takes about 21/2 hours to complete, though it’s not timed. Scoring is pass-fail.

The credential is seen as especially helpful for people with little or no work experience or education credentials.

WorkSource Snohomish County at Everett Station will be among local sites offering the test as well as training. Other local sites are not set, though community colleges and programs such as Job Corps are likely candidates, Lund said.

Causey said local employers will drive the success of the credential by requiring it of job applicants, for example. “It will probably sell itself.”

Reporter Melissa Slager: 425-339-3465 or mslager@heraldnet.com.

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