REACHing for Student Career Awareness

The Organization:

Fay-Penn Economic Development Council's REACH (Reaching Educational Achievement with Community Help) Initiative - Fayette County, Penn.

The Challenge:

To create awareness among Fayette County students of careers available to them and to create a connection between employers and students, their potential employees

The Solution:

WorkKeys® and its WorkKeys Solutions Provider Keys2Work show students what careers are available, what skills they need to get a job and how to improve their skills before graduation

"This is a valuable tool to create interest in careers among students. Businesses see it as a comprehensive approach that connects and engages them with students. WorkKeys motivates students by tying in jobs, salaries and local businesses." Barbara Gibel, workforce/education manager, Fay-Penn

Situation

Fayette County has the highest poverty rate of all rural areas in Pennsylvania; only the inner cities are more poverty-stricken. School officials in the county didn't think students knew what career options were available inside Fayette County. An interest inventory showed that the students' top choices for careers were centered on the arts, entertainment, sports and the media, not on jobs in high demand in the county.

Businesses in the county felt disconnected from the school system. They did not believe local high school graduates had the right skills to enter the workforce.

Fay-Penn, a nonprofit economic development agency in the county, wanted to connect business with the school system to provide a ready work base within the county.

Needs

Students needed guidance in finding what careers were available to them and what they needed to do to get into those careers. Businesses wanted a way to test students' skills so they would know if those students were ready for employment. Schools needed a way to show students how their skill levels would affect their future earning potential and career options.

Solution

Fay-Penn saw positive results from a local manufacturer using WorkKeys for hiring and promotion. The agency saw WorkKeys as a way to show students what they needed to learn before they were ready to join the workforce. Fay-Penn created REACH to connect business and education in Fayette County. REACH then turned to Keys2Work to test students across the county.

In 2002, all six school districts in the county agreed to test more than 1,500 tenth-grade students using the WorkKeys Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics and Locating Information assessments. In 2003, more than 1,000 additional tenth-graders will take the same skill tests.

Students compare their WorkKeys scores with more than 1,000 job profiles provided by Keys2Work through information from the WorkKeys occupational profile database. Those job profiles were adapted to include information about average salary, necessary skill levels, local postsecondary schools that offer training and local businesses that offer the jobs. The Keys2Work website also shows students which careers they qualify for given their current skill levels, and what their current earning potential would be.

Results

  • Teachers say they use the results to show students why they need to study certain subjects and what they stand to gain by applying themselves to improve their skills.
  • Students use KeyTrain training materials in their classrooms to improve their skill levels before taking the WorkKeys tests again. Starting in 2005, all high school seniors in Fayette County schools will take WorkKeys as an exit exam required for graduation.
  • "Keys2Work helps by providing information about more than 600 careers, the skills you need to get that job, and what kind of money that person makes," said Mike Krajovic, president and CEO of Fay-Penn. "Seeing the dollar signs helps to motivate the students, and it is something the parents can relate to."

Outlook

REACH is working with local businesses to profile the skills needed in local workplaces. Currently, four local manufacturing companies have completed job profiles.

"When students go into the workplace they can find employers using WorkKeys in the hiring process," Krajovich said. "They feel like they are using a real-life system, not just some academic system."

Fay-Penn is also working with Pennsylvania Career Link, a career services system in the state, which uses an online database to match the skills of unemployed workers with requirements of employers. Career Link also uses WorkKeys-specific training from KeyTrain Thinking Media to help job seekers boost their skill levels.