California Board Places Unemployed Residents Using WorkKeys®

The Organization:

Fresno County Workforce Investment Board—Fresno, California

The Challenge:

Finding a foundational career skills exam to help place unemployed residents in high-wage, high-demand jobs

The Solution:

WorkKeys assessment and skills training, along with a WorkKeys-powered skill credentialing initiative

The Results:

Thousands of residents have been placed in high-wage jobs after learning about the careers available to them

Situation

The San Joaquin Valley—the “breadbasket of America”—is the largest agricultural region in the nation, with 1.8 million acres of agricultural land. Thirty percent of all jobs within the region are agriculture-related.

Six counties within the Valley have the highest percentage of residents living below the federal poverty line, according to the United States Census Bureau. Many residents don’t possess basic literacy skills, while others aren’t aware of the job opportunities available to them outside of agriculture.

“Here, your land is your job,” said Pam Lassetter, assistant director of the Fresno County Workforce Investment Board. “We have residents with a very strong emotional attachment to the county with generations invested in agriculture.”

One challenge of the Fresno County Workforce Investment Board is to help its residents find high-paying jobs in high-growth industries taking root in the community. These industries include health care, manufacturing, supply chain management and logistics, commercial trades, automotive technology, information technology, and renewable energy—California’s fastest-growing job sector.

The group adopted ACT’s WorkKeys system to measure residents’ skills. WorkKeys was selected because of its applicability across the workplace spectrum. “WorkKeys has been used to profile tens of thousands of jobs,” Lassetter said. “It gives an expert view of the skills needed for those jobs. It’s a structured practice to help our clients make really good career decisions.”

WorkKeys test results are part of a detailed, seven-page client report that includes score comparisons to WorkKeys occupational profiles, which detail the skill levels needed in desired careers. The report also lists academic grades and career interest information. The report helps participants make informed decisions about their career paths. Individuals who want to raise their scores can take WorkKeys-specific skill training at one-stops throughout Fresno County.

Participants with qualifying WorkKeys scores are awarded a credential that lists the recipients’ job skill levels for employers. Job seekers can use the credential in the job application process, and more than 3,300 certificates have been awarded so far.

“We’re focused on helping companies make the best hiring decisions because that supports the entire regional economy,” Lassetter said. “With the credential, we’re showing companies the skills and competencies an individual has, and telling them that they should put that person above the rest when it comes to hiring. Then the companies can avoid some costs associated with hiring and instead focus on growing their business and creating new jobs within the company. It helps the whole region.”

Results

More than 5,300 job seekers have been assessed with WorkKeys in Fresno County since 2002. Since adopting the system, the Fresno County Workforce Investment Board has had greater success in helping residents make better job decisions, leading to better wages and a better quality of life. Residents have been hired in industries as varied as health care, skilled trades, and high-tech manufacturing.

Lassetter said one client—a second-generation worker from Mexico—entered the program after being dislocated from a 20-year packing plant job. “She thought all she could do was pack tomatoes,” Lassetter said. “She was registered and assessed with WorkKeys, went through training, and we discovered she had phenomenally strong business skills.” After completing skill training, the worker was hired by the county as a program analyst.

Outlook

WorkKeys has spread throughout the San Joaquin Valley. This has led to the creation of the Central California Career Readiness Certificate, supported by nine Workforce Investment Boards across 14 counties using a governor’s discretionary grant for the San Joaquin Valley Partnership.