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In defense of ACT WorkKeys: A credential, not a test

With well over one hundred bills focused on education currently before our legislature, many North Carolinians are likely unaware of House Bill 377. Simply titled “Reduce Testing,” this bill doesn’t necessarily sound like a bad idea. Education professionals are well suited to debate the merits of the various proposals in this bill regarding academic testing, and I would look to them for guidance on those options. As a workforce professional, my concern lies with the elimination of ACT WorkKeys (Section 3.(b)).

I was first introduced to the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certification (NCRC) nearly 10 years ago. Since that time, I have come to appreciate the ability of this certification to not only measure workplace readiness but also as a “foot in the door” with many local employers. In the northeastern part of North Carolina, we have more than 600 companies who support the NCRC credential for new employees. These companies find value in this assessment-based credential which measures and certifies essential work skills and use it to help make determinations regarding hiring and promotion.

HB 377 calls for the elimination of administration for this assessment. Currently, the NCRC is offered to CTE (career and technical education) “concentrators” in their senior year through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NC DPI). In the 20 northeastern counties which make up the NENC Career Pathways partnership, around 2,500 students have earned this credential each year since we began collecting this data in 2014-2015. These students were able to utilize this credential, along with other industry credentials, to step directly into the workforce after graduation.

Providing opportunities for students to leave high school with a credential that allows for direct placement in industry only helps to reinforce our workforce initiative. Gov. Roy Cooper’s NC Job Ready initiative focuses on skills and education attainment, employer leadership, and local innovation as the three key elements. Not only does the NCRC offer this credential for job seekers (skill/education attainment), it also provides employers with a baseline measure of skills that can be utilized to create training. Lastly, the NCRC is required for ACT Work Ready Community status, which is a tool used by many economic developers when recruiting companies to our area.

Whether students in North Carolina would benefit from reduced testing remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that the elimination of NC DPI-administered WorkKeys assessments would only hinder the opportunities for students and industry. While these assessments are available at North Carolina’s community colleges and with other local partners, the ability to earn this credential in high school allows for a quicker and smoother transition into the workforce. Removing the option from schools only passes off the cost to other agencies.

With thousands of positions unfilled throughout the state, it is more important than ever to use every resource available to meet the needs of our industries and our communities.

The Northeast NC Career Pathways partnership invites you to stand with us against the elimination of WorkKeys assessment as called for in HB 377. We encourage you to reach out to your legislators and others in your community to help them understand the importance of this credential. Finally, we ask that you consider the significance of expanding this opportunity to all high school seniors, not just those designated as CTE “concentrators,” to provide greater opportunities for school-to-work transition for students throughout North Carolina.

Brandi Bragg

Brandi Bragg joined the NENC Career Pathways Partnership in October 2017 as the Facilitator for the Northeast. She works to build and maintain collaborations between LEA’s, community colleges, Workforce Development Boards, employers and other community partners in the northeastern corner of the state. Prior to this role, Bragg spent more than a decade in various positions within the employment field. Bragg holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from East Carolina University. In her spare time, Bragg enjoys being in, on, or near the water, and pursuing other adventures with her family.