ACT Introduces New WorkKeys Assessment Designed to Measure Listening Skills

Posted September 26, 2011

IOWA CITY, Iowa—ACT today announced a new addition to its suite of workplace skills assessments. WorkKeys® Listening for Understanding is a computer-based assessment that relies on the latest methods for measuring listening skills and the ability to understand and follow directions in the workplace.

Although these skills are addressed with a current assessment—WorkKeys Listening—the new test offers substantial improvements, including immediate scoring. Examinees listen to brief audio segments describing work activities, then respond to multiple-choice questions about the information they heard. Individuals may move through the audio segments and questions at their own pace, and a maximum time of 45 minutes is allotted for completing all of them. Results are reported within seconds after responses are submitted for scoring.

ACT will continue to offer WorkKeys Listening. Both tests contribute to better decisions about selection and training initiatives for employers and hiring managers.

“Dating back two decades to the 1991 U.S. Department of Labor skills report known as SCANS, study after study has found that good listening skills are foundational to workplace success and are highly valued by employers,” said Martin Scaglione, ACT president of Workforce Development. “Many of those studies have also lamented the lack of effective listening skills among workers. This new assessment will help employers evaluate the listening skills of their current and future workforce. Effective listening can be directly related to increased productivity as well as more efficient coaching and development on the job.”

Nikki Rodgers, 911 Communications Coordinator for Lexington County, South Carolina, hires 911 operators to handle incoming emergency calls and has relied on the WorkKeys system to measure listening skills for several years. “Listening is a unique skill. This work environment is not a calm, quiet one; distractions can be dramatic. Listening for relevant background noises on the phone line can be very important,” Rodgers said.

“By using three WorkKeys assessments identified by the job profile—Listening, Locating Information, and Reading for Information—we are finding that applicants who meet the required skill level are coming in the door with the skills we need them to have,” added Rodgers. “And, if they come to us with the right skills, training goes more smoothly and quickly, and turnover is greatly reduced. WorkKeys assessments have helped us find—and keep—employees who can be successful doing this job.”

The audio segments presented in Listening for Understanding describe work-related scenarios. Scores range from Level 1 to Level 5. At Level 1, information is typically presented by a single speaker. The information is simple, logical, and the main ideas are clearly stated. At Levels 4 and 5, information is often presented by two speakers, and it can be complex and abstract. At these higher levels, relevant details may be implied rather than directly stated, requiring the examinee to prioritize information, make inferences, and understand reason.

The connection between listening abilities and job performance is widely recognized, as shown by survey responses gathered at the 2010 National Workforce Development Conference hosted by ACT. Attendees were asked to evaluate the importance of 29 workplace skills and characteristics and rate the skill levels of new employees. Listening was cited as the most important of the cognitive skills included in the survey; it was rated very important or critical to job performance by 91 percent of respondents, which included representatives of business organizations, employers, and state and federal workforce agencies. In addition, 37 percent of the respondents reported that new workers are either weak or very weak in their ability to listen, indicating a significant skill deficiency.

ACT currently offers a KeyTrain® online tutorial to help individuals build their listening skills and will release a new version specifically for Listening for Understanding by the end of the year. The Listening for Understanding assessment is now available to WorkKeys testing centers nationwide.