So You Think You Know WorkKeys?

Elkin Center Surry Community College Testing Site

Earlier this year, I was in a CTE (Career and Technical Education) meeting. We were talking about WorkKeys.  Like many of you, I’ve talked about WorkKeys since WorkKeys came out. For the first time, however, I thought about whether I really understood WorkKeys. That day, I decided to test my perceptions. Two months, six tests, and a little anxiety later, I hold a Platinum Level National Career Readiness Certificate.

I drove to the Mt. Airy Center of Surry Community College to take pretests in Applied Math, Workplace Documents, and Graphic Literacy. My first challenge was finding the right entrance door. It took three tries. The first door belonged to the magistrate. The second door said, ‘Occupational Lab’, which sounded like a winner but was locked. The only door remaining was Public Safety. Upon entering, I saw a WorkKeys banner but no directions to find the right room. I wandered around until I found a computer lab that looked promising.

There were three people in the computer lab. The lab does other things than WorkKeys assessment. Some were accessing other tests, and some were engaged in tutorials. The lab director was kind and helpful. She kept saying, “We’re here to get you to where you need to be.” She also said that if I did not pass one of the pre-tests, they would provide training modules.

The pre-tests were not easy. In fact, I was surprised at the level of difficulty of some of the questions. I had thought that since high school students take the tests that it couldn’t be that hard, right?  It took a little over an hour to take the pretests. I missed one question each on math and reading and three questions on graphic literacy. That was surprising because I make charts and graphs for a living!

I scheduled to take the actual WorkKeys assessments at 5pm on April 19 at the Elkin Center of Surry Community College. In retrospect, after reading the book When by Daniel Pink (which I recommend), I should have taken the tests in the morning when I am more alert. After a long work day, it was hard to stare at a computer screen and think through test problems.

This time, I was able to find the room easily. The Elkin Center has just one entrance door so that helped. The proctor set up the computer, I filled out information forms, paid $31 ($10 per test and a $1 fee), and was ready to get started. Then a little wave of panic swept over me. What if I didn’t score well? After all, I had learned from the pretests that this was no cake walk. Just because non-college graduates and teenagers take the test doesn’t mean that a master’s-level-educated economic developer was guaranteed to do well. My daughter will be taking the test in a couple of years and would rib me about a low score, as teenagers are required to do. I had decided to blog about it without thinking that it might not go so well. The wave of short-lived panic made me take the test seriously and not rush through it.

The test reminded me of standardized tests from college and for professional licenses. You have to focus on what the question is really asking. The test is multiple choice. I used the process of elimination to narrow the answer choices. I thought Workplace Documents was the hardest, Math the easiest, and Graphic Literacy in between. Below are my scores and information on example skills assessed by each test.

The experience reminded me that economic developers are generalists. We know a little bit about a lot of things. We have a shallow understanding of Phase 1s, know enough about balance sheets to review a company, and can talk a little ‘shop’ with manufacturers. The variety is one thing that makes our jobs interesting. However, it also means that we often don’t take the time to dive deep on a subject. We don’t have to in order to do our jobs well but diving deep can give us a new level of appreciation for our allies’ work.

Another thought that kept going through my head was how important it is for the community college staff to be welcoming and supportive. Many people taking WorkKeys haven’t been in classroom or tested in many years. The experience can be intimidating. Their performance on WorkKeys could determine if they get an important job. The test outcome could be life-changing. I have a greater appreciation today for how community college staff need the personality and demeanor to put people at ease, so they can do their best.

My challenge to you is to find something related to your work that interests you and dive deep. You’ll learn something new and have more appreciation for your allies who do it every day.

Crystal’s Scores and WorkKeys Information

Workplace Documents – Score 88 (score range 65-90)

  • Infer implied details
  • Apply information/instructions to a situation not directly described in the document or to a completely new situation
  • Apply principles inferred in a passage to a situation not directly described in the document or to a completely new situation
  • Identify the rationale behind an entire document or a section of a document

Applied Math – Score 88 (score range 65-90)

  • Solve problems that include ratios, rates, or proportions with at least one of the quantities is a fraction.
  • Convert between units of measurement using fractions, mixed numbers, decimals, and percentages.
  • Set up and manipulate ratios, rates, or proportions where at least one of the quantities is a fraction.
  • Determine the better economic value of several alternatives by using graphics, or determining the percentage difference, or by determining unit cost.
  • Apply basic statistical concepts

Graphic Literacy – Score 89 (score range 65-90)

  • Interpret trends/patterns/relationships
  • Make a reasonable inference or decision based on one graphic after finding information in another graphic
  • Justify a decision using evidence found in a graphic
  • Identify the graphic that accurately represents the data
  • Justify an inference or decision based on information
  • Identify and justify the most effective graphic given a defined purpose

The ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate is an assessment-based credential issued at four levels. The NCRC measures and certifies the essential work skills needed for success in jobs across industries and occupations. For job seekers, it shows employers your skill level in specific areas. Employers use it as a screening tool. ACT says “WorkKeys assessments and skill profiles can help you pinpoint the skills needed to grow your business.”

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