The Ottumwa Courier

February 5, 2013

Test can help boost your pay

Skilled Iowa program focuses on increasing ‘middle-skilled” workers

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Hopeful job applicants can say they have the right stuff to do a job, but it’s hard to actually prove. The Skilled Iowa program could change that.

“The governor asked us to think about how we could train these people to fill those middle-skill jobs,” said Teresa Wahlert, director of Iowa Workforce Development.

She told the Courier during a recent interview that the state has partnered with the ACT company known for the college-entry exams it gives. They are administering a test to see if workers can earn a National Career Readiness Certificate.

Wahlert said there are some skills that nearly all employers want to see. With Skilled Iowa, potential workers will have already taken the National Career Readiness test showing they can either do a job or are smart enough to learn the job.

One of the keys to the test is the self-training module, which can help the job candidate learn the math or reading skills needed to do well — on the test and on the job.

This is a test that can be studied for ahead of time. Study either on the computer at home or at various Iowa Workforce Development sites, the director said.  

Taking the test is done in person, however, with a test monitor present.

There are few Iowa jobs which require no qualifications.

“We have a lot of ‘low-skill’ [level] people but not a lot of low-skilled jobs,” said Wahlert.

In fact, she said, roughly 40 percent of workers are currently at a low-skill level. Yet only about 20 percent of the jobs in this state are low-skill jobs. There are more people, about twice as many, as there are jobs.

That’s one of the reasons for a combination of relatively high unemployment at the same time there are help-wanted signs around the state.

The story changes, Wahlert said, for “middle-skill” jobs.

Half the jobs in Iowa — fully 50 percent of them — are middle-skill jobs, state figures show. Yet only 33 percent of employees are considered middle skilled. That means there are job openings — lots of them.

Wahlert said companies want to hire people for those positions, like punching correct measurements into the computer to run a woodworking machine, being a home health aide taking a patient’s pulse and reporting it to a nurse or working as a medical secretary to schedule multiple 22-minute appointments for each doctor.

The Skilled Iowa initiative, Wahler said, can help the low-skilled workers show they have what it takes to get those mid-level, higher-paying jobs.

The National Career Readiness Certificate lets potential employees prove to hiring managers they can do three mid-level functions.

Skill one says, for example, you should know how many squares of paneling to buy to panel a room. That type of problem, Wahlert said, is applied math.

The second skill, reading for information, means the supervisor can leave written instructions on how to do a job or a manual explaining how to use a new piece of equipment.

And the third skill, searching for information, is helpful when there isn’t an instruction manual and the equipment is too dangerous or expensive to risk using trial and error to figure it out.

Employers get plenty of applicants who cannot perform those mid-level tasks. The boss may not know that until after they hire a candidate or put them through their own testing.

That’s why studying for and passing the test provides a benefit for the employee and the employer, Wahlert said.

In fact, she added, some businesses are now telling Iowa Workforce Development that in order for a person to even apply at their company, they must have the NCRC in their hand when arriving for an interview.

The test is available at no cost to Iowa residents and is valid nationally.



On the web:

www.skillediowa.org