Durbin visits S. Elgin, gets schooled in readiness
Monica Cruz is a machine operator at Hoffer Plastics in South Elgin. The 35-year-old was hired six months ago after earning the National Career Readiness Certificate and is one of 18 employees Hoffer Plastics brought on in 2011 with those qualifications.
Cruz met Sen. Dick Durbin Wednesday along with local education, business and government leaders pitching statewide support for the certificate. It is awarded based on performance on the ACT WorkKeys assessments, which test Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics and Locating Information.
Durbin visited South Elgin and Elgin to learn more about the certificate with an eye toward future statewide expansion.
High school students in Illinois already take the reading and math parts of the WorkKeys assessments within the Prairie State exams. Elgin Area School District U-46 is the first in the state to require its seniors to take the third part and have a chance at the certificate.
U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres told Durbin that he first wanted to focus on college preparation but found there was a need for workforce development.
"We needed to shift our aim to be college and workforce ready," Torres said. This year's graduating class was the first to be required to take the extra WorkKeys assessment. All of the states bordering Illinois already require it, as do 40 states nationwide.
Adults like Cruz can take the exams through Elgin Community College. Cruz said it is easier to get hired with the certificate since there are 70 businesses in Elgin that recognize it for hiring purposes.
Eric Smith is the director of human resources at Hoffer Plastics and chairman of the Elgin Development Group workforce development committee. He said the certificate gives employers a chance to match job openings with qualified applicants.
Smith said each position can be given a score and matched to a proficiency level on the WorkKeys tests -- bronze, silver, gold or platinum. Employers can access scores for thousands of jobs through ACT or bring an ACT representative out to profile specific positions in their workplace and then post jobs for candidates showing the necessary proficiency.
William Hoffer, president of Hoffer Plastics, said he needs employees with demonstrated skills to keep up the quality of his products. With changing mentalities nationwide, Hoffer said there is a concern for finding the next generation of manufacturing employees.
"This skilled workforce initiative is so important," Hoffer told Durbin.
But testing costs money -- something the local initiative needs more of to grow. Community leaders urged Durbin to help get a statewide program on its feet.
Patrick Hayes, chairman of the board of Fabric Images and a member of the workforce development committee, said spending money on this type of program now could help save money later.
"We need to see how we allocate the dollars we have and spend them a little better," Hayes said.
Though Durbin didn't promise money for the program he agreed to work with the community partners moving forward and facilitate state connections for next steps.