Boosting Health Care Employees' Skills and Promotion Opportunities

The Organization:

Owensboro Medical Health System, Owensboro, Kentucky

The Challenge:

Creating a self-study skills program that teaches new job skills and increases hospital employees' chances for advancement within the hospital system

The Solution:

Using WorkKeys® assessments to identify current skill levels, coupled with a targeted instruction program to raise those levels


Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS) set out to create a skill-enhancement system for professional and skilled employees. OMHS officials examined other workplace skill tests but found that many of them were designed to test people specifically in the manufacturing industry. Owensboro Community College introduced the hospital to the WorkKeys system. The hospital found WorkKeys more suitable to its needs because it tests a broader field of work skills, and because the scoring system was easy for managers and directors to understand. Hospital officials also liked the courseware available to help employees raise their WorkKeys scores.


Working through Owensboro Community College and the Department for Adult Education & Literacy, OMHS developed a WorkKeys-based program that would support its goal of giving employees opportunities for self-improvement and advancement.

In 2001, OMHS was awarded an Alliance Grant from the Kentucky Department for Adult Education and Literacy and the Kentucky Community and Technical College System to fund one year of the new program. For 24-hour training access, the hospital supplied 12 computers and a lab area. The OMHS Educational Development Center (EDC), in partnership with Owensboro Community College, administered WorkKeys to employees.

The Program

Employees start by taking the WorkKeys Applied Mathematics and Reading for Information tests, followed by a self-study program. The EDC provides computer–and paper-based study materials to assist employees.

Employees can also take advantage of "OCTC at OMHS"—a learning partnership between the health care facility and Owensboro Community and Technical College. The program offers weekend classes and online classes to fit with employees' busy schedules.

"It enables them to be OMHS employees, work and receive their nursing degree at the same time while being paid for their education time," said Annette Schaefer, EDC coordinator.

After completing several weeks of self-study, employees take a post-test to determine their new skill levels. Employees can use these scores to identify other positions for which they may be qualified or to increase their chances of being promoted.

Motivating Employee Involvement

To encourage employee participation, OHMS offers a $250 stipend to employees who complete the program, take a post-test, and attain or raise their skill levels in Reading for Information and Applied Mathematics. They also receive a certificate of achievement they can include with their resumes.

Employees choose to participate for reasons other than getting the stipend. Some are curious about their skill levels and how they measure up with job requirements. Employees who have been out of the classroom for some time want to reassure themselves that they remember what they learned. Many are surprised that their scores are so high.


  • Turnover reduction—Since implementing WorkKeys, OMHS has seen its turnover rate drop by 32 percent. "Employees are seeing that we value them and support their educational endeavors," said Pam Cox, human resources director.
  • Employee skill increases—More than 600 employees have received the stipend after maintaining or increasing skill levels, according to their WorkKeys scores.
  • A fair system for promotion—Many OMHS employees have been able to transfer to higher-paying jobs within the hospital. For example, some food and nutrition services employees used their new skills to become business office assistants. Others were able to climb higher on the career ladder in their current fields.
  • Wide participation—Hundreds of employees have participated in the program and taken WorkKeys assessments. Participants have ranged from professional positions (RNs, surgical technicians, physical therapists, accounting clerks) to skilled employees (maintenance, food services). "We have had such positive feedback from our employees," said Schaefer. "So many of them have become excited about learning and the possibilities for advancement."
  • A renewed employee focus on education—OMHS officials say more employees are using their WorkKeys scores as a sign that they should enter college for even greater career advancement. The hospital has increased its tuition assistance budget as a result.


The Alliance Grant has been renewed year after year for OMHS. Its goals are to test and provide targeted instruction to even more employees as well as to help those individuals better understand how to use their scores to advance their hospital careers.

Participants are also eligible to receive a Kentucky Employability Certificate, a credential designed to signify worker employability. Recipients are also eligible for the National Career Readiness Certificate, a credential accepted by employers nationwide.