Workforce Newsletter

Welcome to the ACT® Workforce Newsletter!


December 2017

The ACT Workforce Newsletter is designed to give you “news you can use” about trends, data, services, events, and other information to help you achieve your goals in preparing individuals for 21st-century careers.

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ACT Workforce Summit: In Review

Connecting, Stacking, Building.” The theme of the 2017 ACT Workforce Summit materialized in the colorful building block toys spotted on tables throughout the November conference. And attendees were invited to get hands-on with the blocks from the very start.

“When children play with blocks, they are challenged to use creativity and collaboration,” said Suzana Delanghe, ACT Chief Operating Officer, in her opening remarks to summit attendees. “I hope you brought that spirit with you today.”

More than 300 national leaders in workforce and economic development, business, and education attended the conference in Austin, Texas. The summit signified ACT’s commitment to boosting work ready skills among emerging and sustaining members of the workforce. 

Steve Kappler, event emcee and Senior Director of Consulting Services at ACT, said the organization is “doubling down” on workforce initiatives. Kappler described enhancements to ACT WorkKeys® and the NCRC®, the merger between ACT and ProExam to offer credentialing advisory services, and ongoing ACT research on workforce development issues as growth areas for ACT’s workforce offerings.

The summit offered numerous breakout sessions and plenaries on varied topics, including skill gaps, industry credentials, community and regional skills development, and helping underserved learners. Keynote speakers were former Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri, Katrina Gilbert of the HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck, and Zach Pousman of the technology consultancy firm Helpfully. Featured speakers included Jane Oates, former US Department of Labor assistant secretary; Jean Wallace, Lockheed Martin aeronautics vice president, and Dr. Christopher King, noted research scientist. 

Summit Spotlight

HBO documentary subject: Help adult learners struggling from poverty

Katrina Gilbert, a keynote speaker at the ACT Workforce Summit, had no idea her life was about to change when she was approached by film producers at her children’s daycare. Following that fateful meeting and a year of filming, she became the focus of HBO’s documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The documentary was coproduced by Maria Shriver and premiered in March 2014.

The film chronicled Gilbert’s efforts to balance a career as a certified nursing assistant, earning $9.49 an hour, with raising three children singlehandedly in Tennessee. Gilbert worked long hours, struggled to sustain her family, and often had to choose between putting food on the table and purchasing her own medication. Despite her battles, she enrolled in college courses to raise her income but found she was ineligible for financial aid. “How could a single mom of three not be eligible for financial aid?” she wondered.

But another surprise was in store when she arrived at the New York City premiere of the film—a full scholarship to Chattanooga State Community College. She has since earned her associate’s degree, with honors, and plans to further her education and become a registered nurse.

Gilbert highlighted programs that have helped her balance school, work, and life, including the Tennessee Reconnect program for adult learners looking to earn a degree and the Chambliss Center for Children, a subsidized, round-the-clock daycare facility for her children. “Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to work and go to school,” she said.

Gilbert encouraged summit participants to help adult learners achieve their goals. “Believe and advocate for people like me,” she said. “Whenever I find myself doubting, I remember everything I faced, battles I won, and all the people who helped me along the way. Be one of those people.”

Photo credit: HBO

“I am the face of poverty,” said Katrina Gilbert, “and people living in poverty need help.”

Former Missouri Governor Credits ACT Work Ready Communities for Growth

Jay Nixon was elected Missouri governor in the midst of a worldwide recession and knew he faced huge challenges—and there were more on the way. He says investing in education and workforce development—and the ACT Work Ready Communities initiative—made all the difference.

“When I was elected, unemployment was at 10% and people were flat-out scared,” he told ACT Workforce Summit participants. “We set out to transform workforce development in Missouri. We started by supporting public schools, STEM initiatives, and community colleges and talked to employers large and small.”

Gov. Nixon was briefed on the Work Ready Communities initiative and “the more I learned, the more sold I became. Work Ready Communities address vexing problems and bridge gaps between what’s taught in the classroom and demands of the real world.”

The state put the initiative to the test in May 2011, when an F5 tornado flattened much of the city of Joplin. Aside from the cleanup, the goal became to save the community in the long term, despite nearly 800 businesses and 7,000 homes destroyed or damaged. Despite the horrific events, Joplin became the first certified ACT Work Ready Community.

“The businesses needed something measurable, verifiable, and practical—data that could keep people from moving to Tulsa or St. Louis,” Nixon said. “Those employers worked together to make it happen.”

The storm occurred at the end of the school year, but 98% of Joplin students returned in the fall. Nixon compared this to a similar storm in Greenwood, Kansas, where only 21% of residents remained. And there were other signs of Missouri’s success:

  • The state was top 10 of job-creating states
  • Missouri led the Midwest in manufacturing growth
  • A 44% increase in two-year college graduates
  • A 36% increase in four-year college graduates

“Drawing investments to the state is all in the numbers, and Work Ready Communities helped us prove it,” Nixon said. “Empowering people is the key to a strong economy. Work Ready Communities gave us a way to prove we did just that.”

“The businesses needed something measurable, verifiable, and practical—data that could keep people from moving to Tulsa or St. Louis,” Nixon said. “Those employers worked together to make it happen.”

Texas Business Leader Roundtable

A group of Texas industry and economic development leaders were invited to share their views on challenges and opportunities facing the US workforce and education. The panel was moderated by Bill Thornton, CEO and president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. A summary of their insights is below.

Describe the signature workforce development efforts at your organization:

Lockheed Martin’s signature efforts include programs for three segments of the workforce: leadership development, skilled STEM workers, and the touch-labor workforce, according to Jean Wallace, Vice President of Human Resources at the aerospace firm. The company created a STEM academy for its skilled workers to maintain its talent pipeline. “This helps develop our workforce’s STEM expertise we need as we have a retirement flow through the next three to five years.”

How do you find job candidates?

Ray Peters, RoyOMartin Vice President of Human Resources, touted the WoodWorks program, a curriculum that teaches job skills at 19 high schools in Louisiana and Texas. “It’s our crown jewel. We work with students who usually wouldn’t go to college and are looking for alternative career paths, letting them know they can make a good living in operations roles. We train them in skills like industrial math and critical (or soft) skills. It’s been an extremely successful program, accredited by Louisiana and Texas bodies. Students get school credit while they participate.”

What does the STEM skills gap mean to your organization?

“Today, everybody is a tech company,” said Wallace, “so how do you differentiate yourself and attract STEM talent?” The answer: grow your talent pipeline by partnering with educators. Lockheed has invested $50 million to boost STEM education and interest at K-12 schools, as well as partnering with community organizations to help underserved workers.

On reaching millennials:

Austin is home to many small companies with 50 or fewer employees. Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice President, Federal/State Advocacy and Education/Talent Development at the Austin Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber encourages employers to focus on the city’s culture to attract millennial talent away from big cities. “Thirty years ago, we weren’t competing with New York City—now we are, and we’re trying to keep up,” he said. “Austin needs to be a place to attract and grow smaller high-growth companies.”

On knowledge transfer from baby boomers to younger workers:

The Charles Schwab Corporation has many legacy employees nearing retirement. Renee Schroeder, Senior Vice President of Advisor Services Technology, said the key to transferring knowledge is balance. “We balance our legacy employees with new employees, and the millennials are actually teaching our legacy employees a lot,” she said. Schroeder added that the company tracks which specialized skills legacy employees say are important to ensure those skills are present in newer generations.

On industry-recognized skill credentials:

“We’re familiar with industry-based certifications and certainly recognize them,” said Peters. But as with high school diplomas and college degrees, their value can vary depending on where it’s received. RoyOMartin has used the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate® as a credential of choice to increase the quality of hires. “We need that equalizer and normalizer. ACT WorkKeys has been our normalizer.”

What upcoming workforce challenges make you nervous?

“We need to make sure people are not left behind,” Wallace said. “The talent is out there. You have to tap into them and help them. People don’t know what jobs are out there. How do we let them know about options within their own communities as well as across the United States?”


"The talent is out there. You have to tap into them and help them."

Upcoming Events

American Association of Community Colleges Workforce Development Institute

Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2018
New Orleans, Louisiana
Stop by the ACT booth

Product Spotlight

ACT WorkKeys Curriculum

Identifying skill gaps is the first step. Helping job seekers and current employees bridge that gap can help them earn a big boost in the job market.

The ACT WorkKeys Curriculum helps these individuals build the key skills assessed by the recently updated WorkKeys Assessments suite. These are the skills needed for learning, personal development, and effective job performance. The curriculum includes interactive study tools, a new user interface, a customized study schedule, and end-of-course quizzes that can help prepare users for high-stakes WorkKeys testing.

The curriculum can be accessed from any computer or mobile device that supports HTML5 and is a proven tool in helping individuals grow the skills needed for workplace success.

Workforce Toolkit

Best Practices: Retaining Employees

Making a commitment to job skills profiling, assessment, training, and certification can make a difference in combating sky-high turnover rates. Inova, a nonprofit healthcare system based in Washington, DC, had two positions with more than 50% turnover but found that “hiring for the long haul” means hiring for skills. Inova experienced a 74% turnover reduction and $1.3 million in training cost savings after implementing job skill assessments in hiring.

Ask an ACT Expert

Q: A business has been using the WorkKeys Locating Information assessment in its hiring practices for several years and would like to move to the new Graphic Literacy assessment. What’s involved in adding Graphic Literacy to the business’ existing job profiles?

A: Our answer comes from Dr. Helen Palmer, director of ACT’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology area:

“Profiling Graphic Literacy could be done fairly quickly depending upon how current your existing job profiles are, so updating from Locating Information to Graphic Literacy isn’t like completing a profile completely from scratch. 

“Step 1. Find the profile report and verify that it followed the content validity format. A report that follows this format will include the words ‘content validity report’ on the cover page and will include an executive summary, nine sections, four appendices, and the Final Task List. 

“Step 2. Review the profile report to determine if it’s still representative of the job. When an organization wants to determine if an established job profile is still valid and usable for selection purposes, the first question that must be addressed is whether or not the job, equipment, operating procedures, or applicable training programs have changed. To determine this, the profiler should work with the client to review the Final Task List and highlight any tasks that have changed since the original profile was conducted.  If there have been few/no changes in the job, the local job profiler can conduct the profiling work needed to add the new skill to the existing profile. Many changes to the job simply mean that a little more time will be needed during the profiling session to update the task list.

“Step 3. The job profiler meets with employees doing the job to review the Final Task List, make adjustments to tasks, and perform a skill analysis (determine which tasks require Graphic Literacy and determine the level of skill needed for the job) to add the skill to the profile.

“Step 4. The job profiler will either customize the Content Validity Report Addendum for the additional skill profiled using the template provided by ACT or complete a new content validity report depending on the extent of the changes.

“If business representatives have questions about this process or don’t know who their local job profiler is, they can call the ACT Industrial/Organizational Psychology group for assistance at 319.337.1724 or email” 

Photo of Dr. Helen Palmer

Dr. Helen Palmer
Director of Industrial/Organizational Psychology, ACT