Mesa County first Work Ready Community in state

Curtis Englehart
Curtis Englehart

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Mesa County is home to the first Work Ready Community in Colorado, earning certification under a program streamlining the process of connecting businesses looking for employees and applicants looking for jobs.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Curtis Englehart, director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

The certification means Mesa County has taken steps to quantify the skills of the local labor force and can offer that information to not only existing companies, but also new firms considering opening operations or relocating to the area, Englehart said. Moreover, assistance is available to help businesses analyze jobs to determine what training and skills are needed to perform them.

The designation is the result of a year of work as well as the collaboration of the center, Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Mesa County School District 51, Western Colorado Community College and more than 100 businesses that have joined in the efforts, Englehart said.

In earning the certification, Mesa County achieved two goals, he said.

The first goal was to issue at least 735 National Career Readiness Certificates based on the results of tests of the knowledge and skills of job applicants. Nearly 2,200 such certificates have been issued, he said. The second goal was to enlist the support and participation of at least 117 businesses in the program. That number is at 120 and counting.

Career-readiness testing has shown that 80 percent of those earning certificates in Mesa County attained the silver level or higher, Englehart said. That means they’ve demonstrated the skills necessary to perform 67 percent of  the 21,000 jobs profiled in a national data base. Seventeen percent of those earning certificates in Mesa County attained the gold level or higher, meaning they can handle 93 percent of the jobs in the data base. “I’m very pleased with the results so far,” he said.

The certificates provide credentials job applicants can use to land jobs not only in Mesa County, but also other areas of the country involved in the Work Ready Community Program, Englehart said.

National Career Readiness Certificates also help in better matching applicants with job openings, reducing a potentially large pile of resumes to a smaller and more manageable pile, Englehart said.

Moreover, employers can focus on whether an applicant constitutes a good fit with the operation and staff rather than trying to determine if applicants possesses sufficient skills, he said. Employers that focus on fit in return reduce hiring costs and turnover.

The other component of the Work Ready Community program involves job profiling. Two members of the staff at the Mesa County Workforce Center have earned certification to conduct job profiles for local employers, Englehart said. The free profiles involve meeting with employers to analyze a position, including the tasks involved and skills required. The customized profiles then can be used to determine what training and skills are required to successfully work in that position, he said.

Five job profiles have been completed so far, and the schedule for developing additional profiles is full through June, he said.

Career readiness certificates and job profiles can be used together to better match applicants with job openings, creating a kind of hiring pipeline, Englehart said. “We’re trying to streamline the process and make it as efficient as possible.”

The Work Ready Community program offers still other benefits, he said, among them better quantifying the local work force, identifying and closing gaps in skills and creating career pathways.

Career-readiness testing quantifies the skill levels of the work force, results that can be used to demonstrate labor availability, Englehart said. “That’s information we can share to our local employers as well as prospective employers.”

Career-readiness testing also helps applicants identify  and close skill gaps, he said. Those who choose to do so can receive additional training and retake the test to attain higher levels.

The Work Ready Community program adds to the other resources the Mesa County Workforce Center offers to help businesses find employees and applicants find jobs, Englehart said. Businesses can post job openings and arrange for hiring events as well as receive assistance in offering on-the-job training and internships. Individuals receive help with searching and applying for jobs.