Jobless figures for the nation, Ohio, and Lucas County are improving. The state’s unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent last month; in Lucas County, the rate was 5.7 percent.
Those figures are still unacceptably high. Many unemployed workers have effectively dropped out of the labor force and no longer count as unemployed.
Government can’t solve the problem by itself. But it can create conditions for job growth and help ensure that workers are ready for current and prospective jobs.
A new pilot program launched by Lucas County aims to help job seekers show their readiness to work by certifying their skills on a national exam. The ACT Work Ready program, developed by the company known for its college entrance exams, grants National Career Readiness Certificates that validate skills in reading, applied mathematics, and finding information.
These general skills are needed for most jobs, as well as for company-sponsored training. Lucas County was one of 19 counties in the country selected for the program.
Certificates will give applicants a chance to stand out and demonstrate to employers that they are ready, with four levels of competence signified by bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. The lowest level, bronze, shows skills that qualify for 16 percent of the jobs in the occupational database. Platinum, the highest level, qualifies applicants for 99 percent of the available jobs.
Employers that recognize the program, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, will use the exam as a tool, although they will base hiring decisions on many factors. Some employers may even decide which of the four levels best fit their needs.
“It takes a lot of the guesswork out of hiring,” Carol Contrada, president of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, told The Blade’s editorial page. “It’s an added piece of information for employers and a great driver for economic growth.”
High school students also can take the test. Some states include ACT Work Ready exams in school curricula.
Lucas County should use the new program not only as a hiring tool for employers, but also as a training aide for job applicants, especially long-term unemployed workers.
Nearly half of unemployed Americans say they’ve given up looking for work, according to a new poll commissioned by the staffing firm Express Employment Professionals. Long-term unemployment and a persistent “skills gap” have persisted during the economic downturn.
The ACT Work Ready program can help the county identify immediate skill deficits that need to be corrected to make applicants employable. The county should focus on getting such workers the help they need to get back into the job market, even if it has to develop new programs to meet training needs.
OhioMeansJobs Lucas County, formerly The Source, has placed more than 18,000 people in jobs since it launched in 2004. Nearly 100,000 people have registered with the program. Top current job openings include production laborers, customer services representatives, home health aides, and retail salespeople.
The county’s goal is to certify 2,000 job seekers and 200 businesses in two years. In doing so, it should make helping long-term unemployed workers a priority.
For information, call 419-213-JOBS.