The Career Readiness Certificate: New Resource for Job Seekers and Employers

by Barbara Bolin

Employers in the US have become disillusioned with both the trainability of high school and college graduates, and with their associated work ethic. The second issue and its solution are, for the most part, societal concerns. The trainability issue though is one that many states have embraced and have set out to address through the development of a portable skills credential, the Career Readiness Certificate.

In 2003, seven Mid-Atlantic States agreed that a portable credential that indicated attainment of criterion-referenced, workplace literacy skills would be beneficial to the regional economy that spans these states. A common language was needed for such a credential and, because ACT's WorkKeys' was already being widely used by businesses across the country, it was decided to base the Certificate on WorkKeys' assessments.

Over the last 10 years, WorkKeys' has become a widely accepted common language for skills definition among employers, educators/trainers and potential/incumbent employees. The WorkKeys' system was developed as a measure of workplace literacy. It allows for the identification of skills needed on the job, for assessing the skills of employees, and for indicating specific skills training to close gaps between the two.

The power of the WorkKeys' system lies in its:

  1. Objectivity-skill levels mean the same everywhere, unlike school grades;
  2. Simplicity--skill levels are described in terms of single digit numbers whose meanings are clearly defined);
  3. Compliance with federal law (ADA, EEOC); and
  4. Legal defensibility

The seven-state Career Readiness Certificate Consortium created enormous interest around the country, and many more states asked to join. There is no cost associated with the Consortium--it is simply a supportive group to assist with the development of the Certificate in any state. The Consortium is now comprised of 37 states.

Five states are now issuing the Career Readiness Certificate, and at least two more will do so by the end of 2005. While each state is deploying the credential in its own way (from the governor's office, the community college system, the state workforce development board, or in high schools), there is consistency across the Consortium in terms of the three assessments used and the definition of skills levels. These assessments and the levels are shown in the table below.

The onus to get the Career Readiness Certificate usually falls on the potential employee, and it can be paid for with funds already available through our education and publicly-funded workforce development system. It can also be paid for by an individual or an employer. Training to raise skills levels is done on-line and is quick, inexpensive, and can be done in a high school, one-stop career center, community college, or anywhere where an on-line training system is in place. Costs associated with the Career Readiness Certificate vary from state to state but they are less than $100.

Significant Benefits

The benefit to high school students is significant. Many students have difficulty in seeing the relevance of school to the world they will enter. Even students bound for college have little sense of what skills will be required to get and keep a good job. WorkKeys' assessments and the Career Readiness Certificate clearly show the need to be able to apply academics learned in the classroom. The Certificate also gives students an objective view of what they can do and what they need to learn to improve their chances of success in a career. In many cases, students are better prepared than they ever realized, and that gives them hope for a successful future.

The benefit to employers is significant, whether or not a business is currently using the WorkKeys' system. All an employer needs to do is to specify in job descriptions the Certificate level needed by an applicant, as is done with other educational requirements. This guarantees a level of skill and trainability of applicants BEFORE they come through the door of HR. The savings in time and money are obvious, and by requiring Career Readiness Certificates, employers will send a clear message that trainability and workplace literacy are important.

It is NOT intended for the Career Readiness Certificate to replace the high school diploma or other credentials. Rather it is seen as a complement to them, giving a more complete picture of a person's qualifications. However, for students who are unsuccessful in a traditional educational setting, the Certificate is an excellent credential and one which can often lead to success in a career. The Career Readiness Certificate is also being seen in many sectors as the starting point for other, industry-specific certifications.

Dr. Barbara Bolin is Managing Director of Bolin Enterprises, LLC, a company that specializes in consulting on economic development (www.bolinenterprises.com). She is currently the Director of the Career Readiness Certificate Consortium (www.careerreadinesscertificate.org), and the Assistant Director of Regional Operations for FIRST (www.usfirst.org).

From 2003-2005, Dr. Bolin was Special Advisor for Workforce Development to Governor Mark Warner (D-VA). As part of her work in Virginia, Barbara developed the Career Readiness Certificate and assisted other states to do the same. Her efforts resulted in a multi-state consortium that continues to grow under her leadership.

For more information on the Career Readiness Certificate and the Consortium visit
www.careerreadinesscertificate.org or contact Barbara Bolin, Ph.D. at 804-310-2552 or bolinb@earthlink.net.

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