Grand Junction Creates a Community-Wide Skill Credential for Residents

The Partners:

Mesa County Workforce Center, Grand Junction, CO
Colorado School District 51
Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce
Grand Junction Economic Partnership

The Challenge:

Finding a way to strengthen the pool of skilled job applicants for local businesses while attracting new businesses to the area

The Solution:

Using WorkKeys® assessments and training as the basis of a skill credential certificate

The Results:

A common language for business and education that leads to a highly qualified workforce

"Everyone sees the need to work together, but we wouldn't have that partnership without WorkKeys. The business community, school district, and Workforce Center have always looked for something to tie us all together. WorkKeys has given us that tie." Judy Jepsen, community partnerships coordinator, Colorado School District 51


Grand Junction, Colorado—a college town that also hosts a large retirement community—has a highly diverse workforce. Despite this, many employers told local educators that they were not seeing enough high-quality job applicants. Meanwhile, applicants at the Mesa County Workforce Center struggled to get employers' attention. "Applicants were telling us, 'We put in for jobs, and they don't even look at our resumes,'" said Nancy Sowls, lead instructor at the Workforce Center.

At the same time, Colorado School District 51—comprised of 39 schools—was looking for a tool to help get students ready for the workforce. "Seventy percent of our students don't go to a traditional, four-year college," said Judy Jepsen, community partnerships coordinator for District 51. "I wanted to find a way to help them find their skills and help them to become marketable to the workplace."

Both groups eventually realized they were looking for the same thing—a way for local business leaders, educators, and job seekers to communicate.


Grand Junction businesses, schools and workers needed a common language that specified the skills needed in local jobs. Officials also needed a way to both assess and boost those skills among employees and students.

"We needed something that a job applicant could take to an employer that will show they are workforce-ready and will be a good fit at the company," Sowls said.


The group decided to create a certificate system that would help residents demonstrate their skills to employers.

District 51 and the Workforce Center looked to WorkKeys as the basis of the system. They formed a partnership that included the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. The group looked into other WorkKeys-based skill certificates in Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Virginia and developed a similar system.

Participants take three WorkKeys exams—Applied Mathematics, Reading for Information, and Locating Information. Depending on their test scores, they receive a Bronze, Silver or Gold certificate that lists their WorkKeys scores. The certificate explains the system and puts the WorkKeys scores in context. It also bears signatures from leaders in local business and education—including the Chamber of Commerce president and District 51 superintendent.

The system also involves a skill-improvement component. If the participant needs a higher skill level to be competitive for more jobs, the school district and Workforce Center offer skill training through KeyTrain materials "That was an important component to the schools," said Jepsen. "That way, we wouldn't only know where students' skills were. We could also help them improve."

District 51 identified more than 100 students to participate in WorkKeys testing as a pilot program. WorkKeys is now a part of intervention programs, business classes, and special education programs. In addition, students receive elective credits toward their diplomas when they receive high WorkKeys scores. "It's our way of helping the students in those programs get back on track and develop skills to be successful," said Jepsen.

With the system developed, the group sold local businesses on its merits. They gave presentations to the local chamber and human resources associations, followed by one-on-one meetings with companies.


  • A certified workforce – More than 2,000 certificates have been issued, and more than 3,500 residents have taken a Workkeys test for participation.
  • Buy-in from the business community – Fifty-seven businesses have agreed to participate in the program. All job applicants are asked for and encouraged to pursue certificates.
  • A way to attract business to Grand Junction – "It's not just that we have residents here looking for jobs, but we have people here with the skills your company is going to need. It will help us attract business here."
  • A self-funded program – First funded by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the system is now self-funded by the Mesa County Workforce Center and District 51.


The group is currently developing a website that contains WorkKeys job profiles—analyses of the skills needed for local jobs. "That would help make it relevant for students," said Jepsen, "to help show them why they should care."