Frequently Asked Questions

Please see our career seekers FAQ for more details about using your account and earning and ordering The Certificate.

Please see our Talent FAQ for more details about the Talent assessment.

NCRC FAQ

What is the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC)? What is the NCRC Plus?

The NCRC, issued by ACT, is a portable, evidence-based credential that certifies essential skills needed for workplace success. The NCRC Plus adds a soft skills component to the NCRC, summarizing personal characteristics that contribute to work performance.

How does an individual earn the NCRC and the NCRC Plus?

An individual must score at least a level 3 on three WorkKeys® assessments: Applied Mathematics, Locating Information, and Reading for Information. Individuals can earn the NCRC Plus by also taking the Talent assessment.

What is the significance of the cognitive assessments associated with the NCRC?

Studies performed by ACT on more than 18,000 jobs identify the tasks that are most important to job performance, as well as the essential skills needed to perform them. These data serve as evidence showing the skills documented by the NCRC to be highly important to the widest range of jobs, making them the foundation for a qualified workforce. Skills are measured by three assessments:

  • Reading for Information—comprehending work-related reading materials that range from memos and bulletins to policy manuals and regulations
  • Applied Mathematics—applying mathematical reasoning to work-related problems
  • Locating Information—using information from such materials as diagrams, floor plans, tables, forms, graphs, and charts

What cognitive skills are measured by the NCRC?

  • Problem solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Reading and using work-related text
  • Applying information from workplace documents to solve problems
  • Applying mathematical reasoning to work-related problems
  • Setting up and performing work-related mathematical calculations
  • Locating, synthesizing, and applying information that is presented graphically
  • Comparing, summarizing, and analyzing information presented in multiple graphics

What is the primary purpose of the NCRC?

The NCRC complements such traditional credentials as high school diplomas, community college degrees, and certificates of technical proficiency. Academic credentials mark the fulfillment of an individual’s classroom learning experiences. The NCRC relies on standardized assessments and confirms an individual’s competence in a specific set of workplace skills.

What qualities make the NCRC unique?

The NCRC is based on highly reliable standardized assessments that have been used by thousands of employers across the nation since they became available nearly two decades ago. They are part of the WorkKeys job skills assessment system, which is developed and maintained by ACT in accordance with formal industry standards established by the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (1999; developed by the American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, and National Council on Measurement in Education) and the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. To adhere to these standards, ACT performs intensive research and data analyses on an ongoing basis. More than 15 million WorkKeys assessments have been administered since the system was launched.

Earning an NCRC Plus certifies an individual’s cognitive and soft skills.

Does the NCRC expire?

No, each NCRC includes a date of issuance and does not expire. Generally, certificates should be renewed after five years. The skills measured by any credential tend to change with time.

Why is the WorkKeys logo not printed on the NCRC?

To help build brand awareness for the NCRC, the WorkKeys logo was not added. Too many logos can cause brand confusion, especially when co-branding is added.

The new NCRC design seems to be missing a valuable element that provided examples illustrating the value of each certificate level. Simply saying Silver does not tell an employer or job seeker how this level compares to Gold or Bronze.

The NCRC Plus rankings serve to summarize the skills that will contribute to an individual’s success in roles that are common to many working environments. Similarly, the information printed on the NCRC provides a general description of the skills that are most widely associated with performing job tasks. Although the previous version of the credential provided generalized information based on “level,” it did not fully explain all of the skills reflected by the scores on which it was based. For example, scoring a Level 6 in Math and Locating, and a Level 3 in Reading, would generate a Bronze certificate.

Information printed on the current NCRC aligns with the manner in which the credential is intended to be used. Employers who require specific levels of WorkKeys scores are encouraged to perform a job analysis.

When individuals complete WorkKeys tests, should they expect to receive an NCR upon completion from the facility that tested them?

This depends on the facility and whether it is set up to print and/or receive the NCRC. If the site only conducts testing and is not distributing certificates, the individual will need to create an account and order a certificate from ACT.

What about test scores associated with regular NCRC levels, e.g., Gold, Bronze, etc.? Can employers review these through the online verification system?

Examinees can review their test scores online. A prospective employer can view only a certificate level and NCRC Plus rankings. Individuals can provide scores to a prospective employer by printing a transcript from their online account.

Who maintains the NCRC and the WorkKeys system?

The WorkKeys system and the NCRC are maintained by ACT, an internationally recognized assessment and research company that is solely responsible for developing, distributing, and scoring WorkKeys assessments. Although ACT is most widely recognized for helping millions of people transition to college via the ACT® college admissions program, ACT is similarly committed to establishing evidence-based solutions that help young people and adults successfully transition to meaningful jobs and careers.

How is training provided in support of the NCRC?

Training curriculum and learning management services are also part of the ACT® WorkReady System. KeyTrain® courseware is specifically designed to improve skills measured by WorkKeys assessments and documented by the NCRC. The system includes placement tests that enable individuals to begin learning at an appropriate level and end-of-course instruments that confirm that individuals are prepared to complete WorkKeys assessments and earn the NCRC. KeyTrain’s centralized management system tracks learner activities and progress as skills improve. Educators and workforce development agencies commonly use Career Ready 101 to prepare emerging workers for employment. This expanded program provides access to the full KeyTrain curriculum and includes additional learning content that addresses such areas as life skills, financial literacy, and career development. More information is available on the KeyTrain website .

Are the Talent assessment and the NCRC Plus tied into the KeyTrain system? Do they tie into Career Ready 101? Does KeyTrain address the remedial side of Talent?

No curriculum that relates to improving Talent scores will be offered in the future. ACT is currently finalizing KeyTrain curriculum that is related to improving work-related behaviors that are directly associated with Talent constructs.

How has the NCRC been adopted by industry sectors and skill credentialing systems?

Organizations representing several industry sectors have adopted the NCRC as the gateway credential to certification systems and career pathways strategies. The Manufacturing Institute, the research arm of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), became the first one to do so when it established the NAM-Endorsed Manufacturing Skills Certification System (MSCS). It positioned the NCRC as the initial step in pathways to industry-recognized credentials offered by the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC), the American Welding Society (AWS), and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME). The National Center for Construction and Engineering Research (NCCER) uses the NCRC to introduce its credentialing programs for the construction sector. The Center for Energy Workforce Development (CEWD) has integrated the NCRC into its “Get Into Energy” career pathways initiative. The MSCS and the CEWD strategies emphasize the role of competency models developed by business and industry for the U.S. Department of Labor. Advocates in other sectors are investigating similar initiatives.

NCRC Plus FAQ

Once they complete Talent, how do individuals who have already earned the NCRC receive an updated credential that shows the NCRC Plus rankings?

Individuals can access their online accounts to create and purchase an updated NCRC that includes the NCRC Plus rankings.

If the test site offers printed certificates and issues the NCRC Plus, a new certificate will be generated when the individual takes the Talent assessment, provided all four assessments were taken within the same 12-month period. Assessments that are older than 12 months can be included at the request of the test site. Since a new certificate will be issued, this will result in the standard fees charged for registering and printing an NCRC.

Will a certificate holder have the option of withholding Talent results?

No. By choosing to institute the NCRC Plus, the site is choosing to distribute it to all who qualify for a credential. If a site chooses not to adopt the NCRC Plus, the NCRC will be issued to all who qualify; this means that an individual who earns the NCRC and completes the Talent assessment at such a site would be issued a standard NCRC.

Individuals purchasing a certificate online will always receive an NCRC Plus if they have taken the Talent assessment.

Does the Plus portion provide levels of practice like other “academic” portions?

No.

Does completing only the Talent assessment make a person eligible for a certificate?

No; an individual must complete Applied Mathematics, Reading for Information, and Locating Information to qualify for the NCRC; qualifying scores on these three tests and the Talent assessment are required to qualify for the NCRC Plus.

Is there additional cost for adding the Plus to the certificate?

The cost of the NCRC and the NCRC Plus is the same. The only additional cost is associated with completing a fourth assessment.

The cost for an individual to purchase the NCRC online is $16. Is this cost higher for the NCRC Plus?

Fees charged to individuals ordering certificates online will not change. The only additional cost is associated with completing a fourth assessment.

Can a test site distribute the NCRC or the NCRC Plus based on an employer’s needs? For example, one company might want its job candidates to complete the Talent assessment, but others might not.

A test site will need to choose to distribute the NCRC or the NCRC Plus. ACT’s systems do not enable turning one certificate on or off to serve an individual or group of examinees.

What if an individual completes the three assessments required for the NCRC, receives a credential, and takes the Talent assessment at a later time? Would this result in two certificates and an additional charge to the WorkKeys Solutions Provider (WSP) or test site?

This would generally be the case, because the system is calibrated to generate the NCRC for the first three test events and the NCRC Plus after the fourth test event, resulting in charges for two credentials. For sites that elect to issue the NCRC Plus, the easiest way to avoid this added charge is to administer the Talent assessment at the earliest possible time—the system will not generate any certificate until the three cognitive skills assessments are completed.

Is there a cut off score for earning an NCRC Plus?

Individuals need to score above the 25th percentile on at least one of the NCRC Plus rankings; they do not need to score above 25 on all four indices to earn the Plus designation. There is the possibility that someone could fail to earn the Plus designation by scoring below 25 on four rankings.

Does Talent detect inconsistent responses?

Features embedded into the Talent assessment will detect patterns of responses that are inconsistent or unusual. These include random responses, an identical response to many items, and answering items that are linked or related to each other in an inconsistent manner. When these patterns are detected, the Talent score report carries a message stating that the responses entered by its recipient are inconsistent and should be interpreted with caution.

If a person's Talent is flagged for inconsistent responses, does this prevent that person from earning a certificate with the NCRC Plus?

Not on the certificate, just on the score report.

How does the NCRC Plus address soft skills?

There is broad agreement about the contribution of soft skills to work performance, but little consensus about the best way to define, measure, and develop them on a wide-scale basis. The NCRC Plus builds consensus in this area by drawing on the WorkKeys methodology, which establishes a common language for linking skills to job performance. The NCRC Plus is based on the same three skill areas and assessments as the NCRC and adds a soft skills component that links personal characteristics to work-related behaviors.

How does the NCRC Plus report soft skills?

The NCRC Plus reports rankings that reflect how individuals’ personal characteristics affect their inclination to perform in four job roles that are common to most workplaces.

Results are reported in terms of four levels, each of which is depicted by stars printed on the NCRC Plus. Higher numbers of stars reflect personal characteristics that indicate stronger inclination for success. This information is also presented when an NCRC Plus is verified at nationalcareerreadiness.org.

How are NCRC Plus rankings developed?

Soft skills reported by the credential are derived from the WorkKeys Talent assessment, which must be completed to qualify for the NCRC Plus. The Talent assessment measures 12 personal characteristics that predict how an individual is inclined to behave in a wide range of work-related situations. Certain combinations of characteristics have been found to be particularly important to specific job responsibilities. The Talent assessment generates compound scales—known as indices—using algorithms that evaluate responses to selected items associated with specific combinations of characteristics. The outcomes are the basis for NCRC Plus ratings.

Is completing a fourth assessment required to qualify for a credential?

No, completing the Talent assessment is not a requirement for achieving the NCRC.

What work behaviors are summarized by the NCRC Plus?

Higher rankings indicate a greater inclination for successful performance in these areas:

  • Work Discipline: Demonstrating dependability and maintaining a disciplined and positive attitude toward job tasks, rules and regulations, and the work environment
  • Teamwork: Demonstrating compromise, cooperation, and interpersonal understanding when working with others
  • Customer Service Orientation: The potential to demonstrate high levels of attentiveness and courtesy and to provide helpful service to customers
  • Managerial Potential: The potential to demonstrate a high level of work performance in supervisory and managerial roles
The most universal of these is Work Discipline, which measures dependability, reliability, and persistence. These are behaviors that are essential to most jobs. Teamwork is also broadly relevant to many jobs. The importance of the other two rankings is more dependent on responsibilities assigned to a particular job.

How do test results reflect personal behavior?

The Talent assessment is a highly reliable inventory that is based on widely accepted theories about personality and human interaction. In spite of the importance of personality, it is important to recognize that most people can and do alter their behavior. This is confirmed by the millions of training dollars U.S. businesses spend each year to motivate higher performance in such areas as teamwork, leadership, service, and supervision, which mirror the behaviors measured by the Talent assessment. The desire for job success can motivate people to adopt behaviors that will help them improve in areas in which their personality may make them less inclined to excel. In some cases, the steps an individual might have taken to become more effective might not be fully reflected by instruments describing how they are inclined to behave. Understanding personal weaknesses and taking responsibility for remedying them is important to both individual advancement and business success.

Is there a recommended method for establishing Talent cutoff scores for the different dimensions on different jobs?

Individuals with a greater number of stars on the ranking of interest will likely perform at higher levels than individuals who have a lower number of stars. However, because the NCRC Plus has a variety of use models—including workforce development, economic development, and employer selection—we do not provide recommended methods for establishing specific cutoff scores for the different dimensions on different jobs. That is, minimum competency levels on the Talent Indices and NCRC Plus rankings will depend on how the NCRC Plus is being used and on the specific situation (e.g., context, job).

The comment I typically receive in discussing soft skills is that knowledge of appropriate behaviors does not always translate into appropriate behaviors. Do you have data to refute that?

The Talent assessment, and therefore the NCRC Plus, does not measure examinees’ knowledge of appropriate behavior but instead characteristics of their personality or temperament which are related to on-the-job behavior.

Employer FAQ

How can potential employers access the test results of a prospective employee who has earned the NCRC?

Employers can use the online application to verify certificate levels and NCRC Plus rankings. Individuals will need to present their score report, or transcript, to employers who want to know about percentile scores that generated the rankings and other results from the Talent assessment.

How do employers use the Talent assessment?

Many employers use reliable assessments of personality for a variety of purposes. These instruments are used as part of employee selection in order to screen out less desirable job candidates or identify job applicants with desirable characteristics. They are also used to prescribe training and development activities in response to an individual’s personal characteristics and behavioral competencies. Like other WorkKeys assessments, using Talent for this purpose requires substantial preparation and effort. These processes are outlined in the Talent assessment User Guide posted at http://www.act.org/workkeys/assess/pdf/TalentUserGuide.pdf

How do employers benefit by supporting the NCRC?

Recommending that job applicants possess the NCRC by referencing it in job descriptions and postings represents the starting point. Employers who choose to incorporate the credential into their internal processes commonly use it to supplement the information they request from job applicants. This often includes level of education, academic credentials, work experience, reference checks, background checks, interviews, and recommendations. A benefit of using the NCRC is the opportunity to position essential employability skills as an additional factor that helps determine whether an applicant is qualified. The credential provides a level of assurance that newly hired workers are equipped to learn the responsibilities that will be assigned to them and are capable of taking on greater responsibility in the future. Supporting the NCRC also enables employers to improve the local workforce by helping future workers prepare for employment through the acquisition of a clearly defined set of skills.

How can employers build on their use of the NCRC?

The NCRC is incorporated into the ACT WorkReady System, which means that it shares evidence-based linkages with other system components. These include the full portfolio of WorkKeys assessments, occupational research services, curriculum and learning management tools, and data analytics. Although the relationship between the credential and the WorkKeys system creates similarities, they are used by employers for very different purposes. The NCRC and NCRC Plus represent a widely recognized credential used to document foundational skills that are relevant to a wide range of jobs. The WorkKeys system is used for broader purposes that include identifying and assessing skills and skill levels that enhance performance in specific jobs and work environments. Methods for analyzing jobs are provided by the ACT WorkReady System’s research component. Recommending the NCRC represents minimal engagement with the system. Employers who undertake broader engagement can position the credential as a cornerstone for a wide range of functions related to recruitment and selection, human resources, training and development, and performance management. While this requires substantial investment of resources, many employers choose to fully implement the WorkKeys system in order to expand on the fundamental benefits of the NCRC.

How will I know that the credentials presented by job applicants are authentic?

The National Career Readiness Certificate can be verified online.

How do employers use the NCRC Plus?

The NCRC Plus and the information provided by the Talent assessment connect work behavior to job success. Both tools help people understand how they need to change in order to succeed in work, training, interviews, and life. The NCRC Plus gives employers additional insight into how an individual’s personality will contribute to on-the-job performance, helping them understand the tools and methods that will make people more successful. Productive behaviors can be taught and learned, and the soft skills documented by NCRC Plus are useful to both personal development and improving work performance. Like the NCRC, the information provided by the NCRC Plus should not be used as the sole criteria for determining whether an applicant is qualified for a job.