Curriculum

Concept of ‘Work Readiness’ Credential Gains Supporters

By Sean Cavanagh — February 23, 2005 4 min read
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A coalition of business organizations and state officials is working to establish a voluntary “work-readiness credential” that adults— and possibly students—could use to demonstrate their job skills to employers.

The goal is to produce a uniform certificate, recognized across several states, that would offer proof of a worker’s mastery of certain “soft skills,” or the basic interpersonal and decisionmaking abilities essential for entry-level workers across many industries.

An organization called the Equipped for the Future Work Readiness Credential project, housed within the Center for Workforce Preparation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in Washington, is coordinating the venture.

The project has drawn financial commitments from Florida, New Jersey, New York state, Rhode Island, Washington state, and the District of Columbia, its backers say, and additional states are interested. A number of business organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, also in Washington, have provided advice and support.

Defining ‘Readiness’

New York’s 16-member board of regents and Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills heard a presentation earlier this month from members of the state’s Workforce Investment Board on the possibility of introducing such a credential. Among the issues, state officials discussed what that document’s value might be, relative to a high school diploma.

Other states are not as far along as New York; some are expected to conduct field tests soon, backers of the plan said.

Efforts to establish a work-readiness credential date back at least a decade, and grew out of a project overseen by the National Institute for Literacy, said Sondra G. Stein, the project manager of the Equipped for the Future project. Eventually, the project was moved within the Chamber of Commerce, she said.

For years, those working on the endeavor have collected detailed information on coveted job skills from frontline workers, supervisors, and managers in many industries. Those skills, which range from communicating and listening to resolving conflicts, eventually formed the basis for the proposed credential.

“We don’t have a standard definition of ‘work readiness’ in this country,” Ms. Stein said. “There are probably a thousand different definitions.”

The credential primarily targets out-of-work adults and those seeking to improve their training or secure better jobs, Ms. Stein said, but high school dropouts of different ages could be eligible for it at some point. Eligibility rules are still being written, she said, and states will be given considerable leeway in setting their own policies for administering the credential.

Complement to Diploma

Marketable Skills

SOURCE: Equipped for the Future Work-Readiness Credential project

A network of business and state leaders recently identified nice workplace skills that could eventually form the basis of a credential available to ex-students and out-of-work adults.

  • Speak so that others can easily understand.
  • Listen actively.
  • Read material with understanding.
  • Cooperate with others.
  • Resolve conflicts and negotiate.
  • Use math to solve problems and communicate.
  • Solve problems and make decisions.
  • Observe critically.
  • Take responsibility for learning.

SOURCE: Equipped for the Future Work-Readiness Credential project

Ms. Stein noted that the credential is meant to complement, rather than replace, a high school diploma, and that states could ultimately encourage students to acquire both documents. The new credential also could eventually act as an incentive for some high school dropouts to return to school, seek a General Educational Development credential, or pursue a college education or technical training, she said.

Adults and youths wanting to secure a credential would be asked to take a 2½-hour written online test made up of multiple-choice, short-answer, and other types of questions, according to a description provided by the Equipped for the Future project.

Some sections would require a spoken response from test- takers, which would be recorded electronically, then later graded by professionals. Those tests could be administered at job-training sites and even in high schools if students requested them, Ms. Stein said.

States taking part in the work-readiness-credential project have contributed between $100,000 and $1 million apiece. In New York, members of the state board of regents are still considering how adults and students might be served by that document. Commissioner Mills has made it clear he believes a traditional high school diploma should already signify a certain amount of preparation to enter the job market, as well as for higher education.

If state officials approve such a credential, they want to ensure that it would “not be allowed to create an incentive to drop out of high school,” Mr. Mills said in a statement. He added that he had received assurances from the state’s Workforce Investment Board, a panel of New York public and private-industry leaders, that such a dilution of the diploma would not occur.

Pam Lund, an associate director of Washington state’s Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, predicted that the work credential would help both job-seekers and companies in her state by providing a uniform set of expectations.

“Sometimes, employees come to work, and [companies] find they don’t have the skills,” said Ms. Lund, who has worked in crafting a credential for use in the state. “It becomes a retention issue.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 23, 2005 edition of Education Week as Concept of ‘Work Readiness’ Credential Gains Supporters

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