08/16/10 — Making sure Wayne residents have what employers want

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Making sure Wayne residents have what employers want

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 16, 2010 2:12 PM

Two work force development efforts at Wayne Community College -- the WorkKeys and Career Readiness Certificate programs -- are growing as more businesses require the certificates from potential employees and potential employees themselves find them useful in the search for employment.

The popularity of the Career Readiness Certificates, or CRCs, has gained momentum in the past two years, with officials calling their growth in Wayne County "phenomenal."

The county leads the state in the number of certificates issued, with more than 5,000 to date, said Dr. Ed Wilson, chairman of the Wayne Education Network, a committee formed in recent years by the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce to enhance education and to shore up the relationship with area businesses.

Wilson said that by 2014-15 that number is expected to reach 13,000.

Lately, whenever the testing lab at the college lab is open, it is filled with people looking to improve their chances at finding a job, or advancing to a better one.

"We have been fairly steady and have had to have waiting lists," said Diane Ivey, the college's workforce development coordinator. "We have been fortunate to be able to accommodate them and make things happen."

Testing is done at least once a week, sometimes two or three times, with a variety of options available to fit different schedules. The lab has 15 seats available, and the college is addressing the need for additional space, Ms. Ivey said.

The first step, she said, is an assessment of skill level. Test preparation is done to work on concepts included in the CRC test. It focuses primarily on three areas -- reading, locating information and math.

"Placement tests or pre-tests (are given) to see where people are. That gives us a skill gap area. It's a very individualized thing for folks. Some people just come in and do the placement tests. That takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half. I would say 15 hours is a good round number for anyone who wants to come in and improve."

Ida Harris of Goldsboro learned about the CRC program through the Employment Security Commission.

"I'm taking it because I'm getting ready to change jobs. I did some prep. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be," she said.

Colleen Baker, who said she is between jobs, struggled a bit with the preparation, but said she found it helpful before the test.

"I have been out of school for a long time, 30-plus years," she said. "My boyfriend works at AAR and he said that they have an opening, and if I get my CRC, there's a good possibility I may get the job."

That is becoming more commonplace, Ms. Ivey said.

"When we first started, we had a small number of companies, maybe five, who were really interested in it, and they kind of were our little seeds that got started," she said. "Then other employers became involved. One thing that helped us in the beginning was there were some HR (human resources) folks who had heard about WorkKeys, were from other states, or worked in other counties that used it. They wanted to use it, and that has really helped us get started."

As other companies learned about the program, its popularity grew. Success associated with the program fostered even more interest, Ms. Ivey said.

"I would say we have around 25 companies now," she said. "Not everybody is requiring them. Some people just want to encourage people to take it."

"The CRC growth is amazing," Wayne Community College President Dr. Kay Albertson said. "We have businesses who have moved from, 'We prefer employees who have CRCs' to 'We are requiring CRCs.' Some have said CRCs are going to be preferred for any person who has less than a bachelor's degree. We know with each portable certificate they have a lot better shot at getting jobs."

That's what Mercy Davis of Goldsboro is counting on. The 22-year-old is currently working and enrolled in the nursing program at WCC.

"You get great jobs with the certificates, better employment, better pay," she said recently, while waiting to take the CRC test. "I have been working since I was 16. I'm always looking ahead."

The preparation for the CRC was perhaps less challenging because Ms. Davis is still a student.

"Since I'm in school, it was still like homework for me," she said. "That helped because the math is kind of fresh."

Even younger students are being targeted to take the CRC, Mrs. Albertson said.

"Wayne County Public Schools joined hands immediately with us and said, 'Our students should take the CRC' and the students are doing well, earning one of the three -- bronze, silver or gold recognitions. It really got other schools to look at it, and that's one of the pushes. I think this year we're going to see more high schools in eastern North Carolina participate."

Wayne County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Taylor said the school system is happy to be part of the programs, noting that it "provides that additional enhancement to the high school diploma when they graduate."

A more mobile workforce has also helped drive the success of the CRC, said Ms. Ivey, pointing out that companies in neighboring counties are also requesting the training.

WCC is part of an eight-county alliance, called ASPIRE -- Assessing Skills for Performance in a Rebuilding Economy -- which recently received $273,075 in grant funds to expand the WorkKeys and CRC programs.

"I have really been trying to build that as a brand in eastern North Carolina, as a measure for employers to help them choose a more highly qualified workforce," Ms. Ivey said. "We're working to improve each other's marketing tools and outreach to eastern North Carolina employers who have really encouraged more local companies to get on board.

"It's the advancement but that's really becoming important. Employers might hire you without it but they're looking at the employment plan ... and those with (the CRC) have more potential to succeed."

Sometimes the certification does more than just get the job. In some cases, Ms. Ivey said, it can move the applicant up the ladder quicker.

"It gives the worker a way to really showcase what they can do, not just look good on paper or interview well. If an employer can look at a person and know that they can handle the training, even if they have no experience, they have the fundamental skills to do the job. And it's a great confidence boost."