Horizon House Brings Home A Better Workforce with WorkKeys®

The Organization:

Philadelphia-based Horizon House is a social service agency for adults with mental retardation, psychiatric disabilities, and drug and alcohol problems

The Challenge:

Creating a system to develop skills of direct-care employees

The Solution:

Using WorkKeys as a job analysis, assessment, and training tool

The Results:

Decreased turnover for the company and increased productivity and teamwork among employees


Horizon House residential services are offered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. Its 900 employees provide a variety of therapeutic services designed to enable residents to live independently in the community. Staff members interact with clients and then document visits in writing so other staff members will know what took place. In this way, employees on varying shifts are aware of the day-to-day issues faced by particular residents. Documentation is essential both in maintaining Horizon House's licensure and in ensuring the well-being of its residents.

Horizon House's regular application and interview process was effective at identifying staff with the "people" skills to do the job. Some employees, however, lacked the foundational skills to accurately report information and work in teams.


Horizon House needed a system to target specific skill gaps in potential and current employees, as well as a way to close those gaps.


Larry Kurtz, director of workforce development for Horizon House, investigated many testing and training systems. He was impressed by WorkKeys — especially the job profiling component — which utilizes input from employees. "Empowering our own workforce is a very positive way of trying to determine the skills people need to do their jobs here," Kurtz said. "The WorkKeys assessments were also appealing because they translate the results of the job-profiling process into test levels that are readily understood by us as an employer."

Kurtz became an authorized job profiler. He analyzed eight positions, six direct-care (entry-level) positions and two first-level supervisor positions. Eighty Horizon House staff members served as subject-matter experts to analyze the specific requirements of each position. Through the process, staff members found four skills essential to all: listening, writing, teamwork, and reading.

"In our field, the ability to listen to and document in writing what you heard is a requirement for our licensure and to preserve the health and safety of those we serve. If an individual does not develop keen listening, writing, and teamwork skills, it could place our clients at risk," Kurtz said.

Employee Training

With grant money from a Pennsylvania state initiative to recruit and retain residential service workers, Horizon House also began a program to develop and train its current residential staff. Offering eligible staff members a $200 incentive to take the WorkKeys Listening, Writing, Reading for Information, and Teamwork tests, they were able to evaluate the employee skill levels.

Horizon House used the results of the WorkKeys assessments to increase the base pay of employees. Nearly all of the 330 employees eligible took the tests and received some type of increase to their base salary; the average increase was 34 cents per hour. Others were encouraged to take WorkKeys-based training based on WorkKeys Targets for Instruction to close their skill gaps.

In 2003, the agency placed its employee training focus on teamwork, based on job profiles that indicated teamwork as a top skill needed in Horizon House positions.

WorkKeys was an integral part of a program that included participation stipends, testing before and after the program, and WorkKeys-specific training. "We felt the organization would benefit tremendously from people getting consistent views and expectations about teamwork, and boosting their skill levels to an appropriate place," said Horizon House CEO Jeff Wilush. Teamwork training was based on WorkKeys Targets for Instruction. More than 80 percent of the staff participated in the Teamwork program, and virtually all of them increased their skills as a result.


  • The company is seeing significant positive effects on turnover and productivity.
  • Increased teamwork among employees.
  • Morale increase — Those staff members who acted as subject-matter experts felt empowered by the job-profiling process, repeatedly expressing how great it felt that Horizon House leaders valued their input.
  • A new direction for employees — Kucsan says the training is giving some workers the confidence to earn college degrees, opening more opportunities for them at Horizon House. To further encourage staff, tuition incentives are offered.


"This really has helped us to identify what our staff needs to have fulfilling careers here at Horizon House. And by them being fulfilled, our consumers will receive as high a quality of service as possible. We see this going in so many different directions and having so many potential benefits. This is going to have a longstanding impact on our organization and our people." —Jeff Wilush, CEO, Horizon House
"Not only does WorkKeys look at the specific needs of new hires, it gives existing employees an opportunity to raise their skill levels. The more our people gain WorkKeys-related skills and increase them, the more effective they'll be at providing the services our clients need." —Larry Kurtz, director of workforce development, Horizon House