ACT WorkKeys help employers/employees in job search

WorkKeysBy William Snesrud, McPherson News

Beginning with the class of 2016, graduating seniors from McPherson High School will be required to have a minimum of a silver level certification from the ACT National Career Readiness Certification (NCRC) program.

NCRC is measured by the ACT WorkKeys, a research-based measure of foundational work skills necessary for success across industries and occupations. WorkKeys uses testing that identifies hard and soft skill levels necessary to perform thousands of profiled jobs.  While not job specific, the skills identified are transferable to most jobs because they are based on workplace situations and do not require job-specific knowledge.

The tests document an individual’s skill development in three key areas:

• Applied Mathematics, which measures skills used when applying mathematical reasoning and problem-solving techniques to work-related problems.

• Locating Information, which measures skills used when working with graphics such as charts, graphs, tables, forms, maps diagrams and instrument gauges.

• Reading Information, which measures skills, needed to read and use written text for a job such as memos, letters, directions, policies and regulations.

The NCRC has four basic levels that are based on the level an individual achieves in possessing the core academic skills for jobs profiled by WorkKeys in those specific skill areas.  A Bronze means 16% achievement, Silver identifies a 67% achievement, Gold shows 93% achievement while a Platinum Level identifies 99% achievement, according to the website.

Certifying Students

According to Angie McDonald, USD 418 Director of Instruction, USD 418 in McPherson is the first community in Kansas to use the WorkKeys program.

“Requiring a silver level helps all students prepare and be ready for strategy skills in the real world,” said McDonald.  “We start with the students as freshman and use their test results as a way to get them into the right courses so they can reach the silver level in time for graduation.”

For those students who may be struggling to get to that silver level there is ‘Career Ready 101’ which helps those students who may struggle with school work and prepares them for testing and soft skill training.

The relationship between a work-ready program and USD 418 works well with the ‘C3’ program that the district began a few years ago as a way to prepare graduating students for success in College, Career, and Citizenship.

Certifying employees

The ACT WorkKeys is not new to our area.  Two McPherson employers have been using the product for several years through Kansas Department of Commerce’s WorkReady Certification Program.  These employers attest to the credential’s ability to help them hire better candidates, according to Kasi Morales, MIDC Executive Director.

One of the goals of the WorkReady Community Team is to help employers and job seekers understand this is the same certification, however, Commerce rebranded theirs for marketing purposes in the early 2000s.

Due to issues with who will share the data once a person is tested in McPherson, Morales said the WorkReady Community Team does not see the data that is collected by the Department of Commerce.  If you are interested in becoming certified you can contact Morales at or Jennifer Burch at

Certifying the community

As more employees enter the workforce with WorkReady accreditation, the McPherson community will need to address how this fits in with current employment opportunities. Jennifer Burch, Executive Director of the McPherson Chamber of Commerce, is part of a group attending training on how to become a certified ACT WorkReady community. The group also includes Kasi Morales, MIDC; Amy Beckman, CHS and Elaine Ferris, McPherson County Learning Center.

Knowing how this certification fits into the overall employment scene requires educating employers on how the jobs they offer line up with the different levels of ACT WorkReady certification. Figuring out this piece of the puzzle has required the group to attend training in New Orleans, Memphis and Little Rock. They will return to New Orleans this December to see if McPherson qualifies for the WorkReady award.

In 2013 McPherson County had 1,040 WorkReady certificates on file according to and that number did not include those McPherson High School students who were WorkReady certified at that time.  Of those 1,040 certificates 139 were Bronze, 554 were Silver, 337 were Gold and 10 were Platinum.  Of the four neighboring counties Saline had 745 filed certificates, Reno 624, Harvey 119 and Marion 59.

According to Kasi Morales, Executive Director of the MIDC, the McPherson business community is beginning to learn the advantages of responding to WorkReady Certified prospective employees with a handful of them already using the certification to help find more prospects who are more work ready than they have been finding in the past.

The benefits of McPherson becoming an ACT WorkReady Community are creating a universally-accepted inventory of area workforce with assets and skills that the community can advertise to attract new businesses and investors.  An added factor would be that a WorkReady Community can then provide county-level data which would help communities in the county target their resources and address specific local opportunities for workforce engagement and improvement.