Getting students college and workforce ready

  • Friday, April 11, 2014

Monica Kreber/Journal Scene Workforce Development Director Jamie Wood, DD2 Assistant Superintendent Sean Alford, Chamber President Billy Romanstine and Assistant Executive Director of Employment Services Rebecca Battle-Bryant were part of an organized WorkKeys discussion during the Chamber’s Power Hour on April 8.

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Dorchester School District Two and industry leaders are working to get students not only college-prepared, but prepared for the workforce and other alternatives for when high school seniors graduate.

On April 8 the Summerville Chamber held its monthly morning Power Hour, which consisted of a panel discussion on ACT WorkKeys, WorkReady Communities and Workforce Development and how each relates to the business community.

The discussion was lead by three speakers: Sean Alford, assistant superintendent for Dorchester School District Two; Jamie Wood, Workforce Development director with Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments (BCD COG); and Rebecca Battle-Bryant, assistant executive director of workforce and economic development for the South Carolina Department of Education and Workforce (SC DEW).

The panelists discussed Dorchester County’s goal to make all students upon graduating high school ready for college and/or the workforce. WorkKEys is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop and retain a high-performance workforce. For educators it helps ensure that individuals are ready for work.

Alford reported that after administrating a WorkKeys assessment the district has been able to determine that at least 94 percent of DD2’s seniors are certified as “work-ready.” WorkKeys has varying levels of certification, and Alford added that 79 percent of those student are certified at a silver, gold or platinum level. Those numbers are expected to go up, Alford said, because the district still has not received assessment scores from 96 more students at one high school.

“That’s tremendous because we hear too often that graduates are not ready for work,” Alford said. “We hear they are not ready for the challenging opportunities once they leave our school district.”

Alford is optimistic with the percentages because it will help district officials determine where they need to focus their attention.

“We will not settle until every student is prepared for college or for work,” Alford said.

Alford added that regional business and industry leaders may not be able to determine an applicant’s skill sets based on a diploma, but they have access to systems that will help them determine an applicant’s skill sets, which is where Jamie Wood comes in.

Wood said BCD COG works with the school district to help get students prepared for entering the workforce. Wood said they work with the WorkKeys assessments, not just for students but for adults as well, to administer WorkKeys assessment tests. Then they work with businesses and create job profiles to determine what skill sets are necessary to be successful within that job.

“We put out whatever that employer is looking to hire and we have job seekers that are looking for work,” Wood said, “and we match those two things together so we have an applicant who has an opportunity to be successful in their career, and we have a business who has a need that gets met.”

Since not everyone has the right credentials, education or experience for jobs, the next part is to help them do that. BCD COG helps people find the credentials they need, Wood said.

“Sometimes they don’t need the education, they just need work experience,” Wood said. “We offer on-the-job training, where you put a person with a company, and the company sets out a training outline, and the person can get real work experience.”

Battle-Bryant reported to meeting attendees to that South Carolina is currently at its lowest unemployment rate since 2008 – last month it was reported to be 5.7 percent.

Battle-Bryant touched on the Work Ready Communities initiative, saying while the state has low unemployment, she keeps hears business owners claim they have trouble finding people fit for jobs.

The Work Ready Communities initiative is a mechanism South Carolina is using to connect workers to the jobs. Battle-Bryant said the idea is to help jobs create their job profiles in such a way that students coming out of high school know exactly what the business is looking for in an employee.

Battle-Bryant said she feels there needs to be a change of perception with students and their parents and not nix the idea of getting a two-year college degree as opposed to a four-year college degree.

“A lot of people with four-year degrees are going back to get their two-year degrees,” she said. “Seventeen percent of jobs in the workforce require a four-year degree. There’s 26 percent of the workers out there who have that, so what that says is there is more people with four-year college degrees than there are four-year college degree jobs.”

After the panelists delivered their presentations the floor was open for questions by the audience, and attendees wanted to know questions such as where people who have already left high school can take WorkKeys assessment tests.

Wood said the test is offered at Summerville’s own Learning Center, and people can go to Charleston’s work center off Hanahan Road, as well as the Adult Education Center in Berkeley.

“Not only is it free for the business to have that profile done, but it’s free for the clients to come in and take the WorkKeys assessment,” Wood said. “If they are under the Work Ready Community initiative then they can take reading, math and locating information at no charge, they can also take a talent assessment at no charge as well.”

Another question addressed the WorkKeys star levels (gold, silver and platinum) and what the barriers are for students who are not ranked in a start level after taking the assessment test.

Alford said the assessment gives good feedback for students and also addresses deficiencies.

“The feedback is to help the student grow and hopefully attain that next level,” Alford said. “We have accommodations for students who have special needs.”

Someone asked how the district can identify what job market is going to look like for the next 5-15 years in order to help parents and students understand what careers are going to be available and when.

Alford, as well as DD2 Superintendent Joe Pye, answered that a mixture of direction from school guidance counselors, as well as adding appropriate classes to catch students’ interest, keeps the district focused on students getting the right credentials before they graduate.

Wood added the message students need to understand that careers are always adapting and changing.

“No matter what you’re doing – whether you’re going to college or a two-year school or an entry-level position – the adults and kids need to understand that they need to be constantly learning,” Wood said.

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