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Credentials Validate Competencies, Work Skills

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Even as our nation's manufacturing sector begins to recover, there are still plants needing to downsize or close, creating soon-to-be-displaced workers. These workers may know their exit date, and they may still have a few weeks or months of income ahead. But finding a new job at equal or better pay after years of dedicated work can be a challenge. Here's what has worked in the Cincinnati region.

THE SITUATION:

Ohio has been a manufacturing powerhouse for more than a century, but hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2001. As plants close entirely or downsize dramatically, individuals with years -- even decades -- of manufacturing experience find themselves facing unemployment. Many of these workers began their manufacturing careers right after high school and lack certifications or diplomas that indicate their current skill levels. On the other hand, employers who are hiring need motivated and skilled workers to operate their production equipment, but they also need an objective measure of the skills each prospective employee brings to the production floor. Given these circumstances, workforce and social service agencies in greater Cincinnati, aided by ARRA (American Recovery and Investment Act) and job training funds, launched a creative initiative to serve area workers and employers.

THE CHALLENGE:

The agencies needed not only to identify an effective way to document workers' skill levels, but they also needed to convince these workers that they could benefit from the effort it would take to earn industry-recognized credentials to document their skills. The classroom and testing experience would need to be started and, ideally, finished before the workers' exit dates. The solution would have to be an accelerated yet flexible program of study and testing, scheduled around the workers' shifts and personal obligations. The goal: help soon-to-be-laid-off workers secure new jobs, equal to or better than their current positions, before their exit dates so that there is little or no need for unemployment benefits.

THE SOLUTION:

The agencies deploy rapid response teams to plants that have issued a WARN notice in advance of layoffs or closure. With management support, the rapid response teams set up a computer lab/classroom for employees to complete online coursework and take proctored tests onsite, before or after their work shift, to earn two nationally recognized credentials in only five weeks: an ACT National Career Readiness Certificate and a Certified Production Technician credential from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC).

THE OUTCOME:

The onsite computer lab/classrooms help make the process accessible. Classroom instruction before and after work shifts help make the coursework and proctored testing convenient and flexible. Accelerating the program so workers can complete the process in only five weeks is essential for the looming job search. The reduced or even nonexistent need for unemployment benefits is important for the workers, employers, and the economy.

As the first workers completed this program and began applying for jobs, listing their new credentials to support their work history, they found that their applications rose to the top of the stack on a recruiter's desk. When a hiring company can be certain the applicant has the skills to learn the specifics of a new position and can become a contributing member of the team from the first days on the job, hiring confidence soars.

In Cincinnati, it takes a village to make this happen. The local Workforce Investment Board is key. So is the Cincinnati Labor Agency for Social Services. Grant funding made the onsite classrooms possible. Union support is also important. Sherry Kelley Marshall, president and CEO of the Southwest Ohio Region WIB, sums it up this way: "As a public sector servant, I'd much rather invest in people being trained before they lose their jobs. I enjoy seeing them succeed in their training, earn their credentials, and never touch unemployment because their last check at the closed plant is followed by their first check from the new one."

Marshall says that many members of the Manufacturing Consortia Cincinnati are such believers in these two workplace credentials that they now guarantee an interview to any applicant with an ACT National Career Readiness Certificate and an MSSC Certified Production Technician credential, or a 50-cent-per-hour increase in the offer salary -- or both.