Employers in Arkansas receive a clear and consistent signal from prospective and current employees about their readiness for work. This signal comes in the form of an employability certificate, developed and administered by the state's Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) program. The WAGE program is run by the state’s Adult Education Division in the Arkansas Department of Career Education and provides tuition-free contextualized basic skills training to unemployed or underemployed adults throughout the state.
The employability certificate is one of five certificates—in addition to industrial, clerical, bank teller, and customer service certificates—that WAGE participants can earn. The state WAGE program sets minimum requirements for each of the certificates, which can be enhanced by local WAGE advisory committees to meet local needs. Administrators at WAGE-certified programs perform literacy task analyses (LTAs) for businesses to identify competencies that are needed for specific jobs and to customize instructional activities. The LTAs are designed around 112 competencies derived from the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). Competencies focus on basic reading, writing, math, and general workplace skills.
To earn the employability certificate, all WAGE participants must receive at least 12 hours of classroom instruction, which includes contextualized basic skills and job readiness training. Like the certificate requirements, the WAGE curriculum is tailored to meet local needs. Instructors incorporate actual workplace materials into the curriculum to help adults become familiar with the skills and functions they need to complete workplace tasks. The curriculum also includes computer-based and distance learning options. After receiving instruction, participants’ skills are evaluated using a WAGE-designed online assessment, which measures their responses to work-based scenarios, and the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE). Students who score 100 percent on the WAGE test and at least a 9.0 on the TABE qualify to earn the employability certificate. To earn the industry-specific certificates, students must achieve a TABE score equivalent to the 12.9 grade level.
The effectiveness of the WAGE program is largely due to the buy-in of local employers, especially because they are willing to help identify the basic and employability skills needed for on-the-job success. Local employers also provide valuable input for certificate requirements and curriculum development by participating in the LTAs and by identifying those competencies that are most important in their workplace. Finally, employers play a major role by serving on local WAGE advisory committees that work to align WAGE training with local workforce needs. The committees are required to include business representatives as more than half of their membership. In these ways, employers can attest to the value of the employability certificate and know that WAGE graduates will have the necessary skills to perform their jobs. In fact, many Arkansas employers prefer to hire applicants with a WAGE certificate than those without one.
In 2004-05, WAGE served over 3,000 adults, with 944 participants entering the workforce while participating in the program and 893 starting work after completing the program. Additionally, 128 participants were promoted or received a pay raise after completing WAGE.
For more information, visit the WAGE website.
Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy (WAGE) website, http://ace.arkansas.gov/adultEducation/programs/WAGE/Pages/default.aspx
Partnership Profile: The Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy, Community Partnerships for Adult Learning, http://www.c-pal.net/profiles/full_profiles/ar_index.html
A Survey of Selected Work Readiness Certificates, Norma Rey-Alicea and Geri Scott, Jobs for the Future, 2007, http://www.jff.org/sites/default/files/publications/WorkReadiness.pdf