Work ready: Program offers benefits to businesses and applicants

Curtis Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, oversees the new Work Ready Communities program offering job profiling and career-readiness testing as a way to better match businesses looking for employees with people looking for jobs. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle
Curtis Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction, oversees the new Work Ready Communities program offering job profiling and career-readiness testing as a way to better match businesses looking for employees with people looking for jobs. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Curtis Englehart works as a matchmaker of sorts in bringing together businesses looking for employees with people looking for jobs. Consequently, Englehart says he’s excited about the potential for a new process based on an analysis of the requirements and duties of a given job and knowledge and skills of a given applicant.

“We’re taking it to a whole new level, which is great,” says Englehart, manager of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction.

There are other benefits to the Work Ready Communities program, he says, among them better quantifying the local labor force and identifying career pathways, in turn promoting economic and work force development.

A free breakfast meeting introducing the Work Ready Communities program to business owners and managers is set for 7:30 to 9 a.m. Sept. 28 at the Mesa County Workforce Center, 512 29 1/2 Road. Reservations, due Sept. 21, can be made by calling 248-7560, sending a fax to 255-3643 or sending an email to jobservice@mesacounty.us.

Englehart says he’s hoping for a big turnout at the breakfast as well as substantial interest in participating in the program. “We need that employer buy-in.”

While the Work Ready Communities program has been implemented in other states, the effort in Mesa County constitutes a first for Colorado, Englehart says. “We are definitely the leader in this.”

The program involves two components, Englehart says: job profiling and career-readiness testing.

Two members of the staff at the Mesa County Workforce Center have earned certification to conduct job profiles for local employers, Englehart says. The free profiles involve meeting with employees to analyze a position, including the tasks involved and the importance of those tasks. The customized profiles then can be used to determine what training and skills are required to successfully work in that position. Completed profiles go into a national database.

Career-readiness testing offers an objective measure of the knowledge and skills of a job applicant, Englehart says.

The National Career Readiness Certificate is based on the results of hour-long tests of math, reading and the ability to locate information.

Certificates are issued at four levels: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Applicants who earn platinum certification have demonstrated the necessary skills associated with 99 percent of job profiles in the database. Gold certification means applications have the skills to handle 93 percent of the jobs in the data base, silver certification 67 percent and bronze certification 16 percent.

A total of more than 2,000 job applicants in Mesa County have earned certificates, and 82 percent attained the silver level or higher, Englehart says.

The Work Ready Communities Program is designed to help employers attract qualified applicants, making the recruiting process more efficient and less costly, Englehart said.

Evaluating those applicants with the appropriate certificates reduces what could be a large pile of resumes to a smaller and more manageable pile, he says. Moreover, employers can focus on whether or not an applicant constitutes a good fit rather than trying to determine if he or she possesses sufficient skills.

At the same time, certification provides applicants credentials that can help them land jobs not only in Mesa County, but also other areas of the country that use the Work Ready Communities program, Englehart says.

The program also can help in better quantifying the skill level of the labor force and using that information in recruiting businesses, he says. If skill gaps are identified, efforts can be made to close them. “From an economic development standpoint, it’s really great.”

Moreover, the program can better quantify the knowledge and skills individuals possess and help them identify and narrow gaps, Englehart says. Those who choose to do so can receive additional training and retake the test to attain higher levels. Testing and certification also can serve as part of an effort to promote potential career pathways.

Englehart says he’s optimistic that enough businesses will participate in the program and enough individuals will gain certifications to gain Mesa County designation as a Work Ready Community.

The goal, though, is to build on what’s long been the efforts of the Mesa County Workforce Center to help businesses find employees and people find jobs, he says.

Businesses can post job openings and arrange for hiring events at the center as well as receive assistance in offering internships and on-the-job training, Englehart says. “We try our best to meet any employer’s needs.”

Individuals can receive help with searching and applying for jobs. Still other services provide assistance with childcare and preparation for earning a high school equivalency diploma.

A newly revamped website at www.mcwfc.us offers information about available resources at the center.

As part of National Workforce Development Month, the Mesa County Workforce Center also has scheduled a job fair for Sept. 27. The fair will be open to veterans only from 9 to 9:30 a.m. and then open to everyone until 2 p.m.

The fair is one of two major hiring events the center hosts each year, Englehart says. Last year, 42 employers and 1,200 people participated, he says.

The center also is working on the publication of a magazine that will further promote programs there and tell success stories, he adds.

While Mesa County has lagged behind other areas of Colorado in recovering from the recession, Englehart says he expects the Work Ready Communities program and other efforts to improve local labor conditions. “I’m excited to see where we’re headed.”