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From Site Selection magazine, January 2017

A Tough ACT to Follow

Debra Lyons, Principal Strategist, Workforce Engagement, ACT

Are locations making progress in quantifying skills required by capital investors?


The downside to measuring progress in the complex world of skills credentialing is that it’s a moving target. The numbers of workers with certain skills in demand by an aerospace components supplier scoping out an area changes as new job candidates are certified and as existing workers retire or relocate.

That simply means areas have to work harder to keep their numbers current and certifiable, assuming they’re on the credentialing bandwagon to begin with.

Not every area is. Perhaps they haven’t selected a skills credentialing scheme to embrace, or aren’t sure where to begin, or who should oversee it for the county or jurisdiction companies use when they evaluate areas.

Site Selection readers are generally familiar with ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificates, which are used in our publication rankings and are cited regularly in content concerning workforce development. For an update on ACT’s progress in rolling out its NCRC program nationally and the state of workforce preparedness generally, we asked Debra Lyons, ACT’s Principal Strategist, Workforce Engagement, for a progress report. Debra is a — if not the — leading thinker in the US skills credentialing universe and is the chief architect for ACT Work Ready Communities — a data-driven approach designed to take ACT workforce solutions to help states and communities align resources, establish goals, use information to close skills gaps and develop a workforce aligned to the needs of employers.

Prior to her work at ACT, she was executive director for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Office of Workforce Development and executive director for workforce development strategies for the Technical College System of Georgia.

Site Selection: For the past year, Site Selection has been covering the importance of quantifying available skills credentials so that capital investors can better understand areas’ workforce attributes. Has significant progress been made in this area in 2016? 

Debra Lyons: ACT has been a leader in providing aggregate public credential data at the county and state level where ACT National Career Readiness Certificates are being earned. The ACT NCRC is comprised of three WorkKeys assessments that measure competencies and skills mastered in applied math, reading for information and locating information -— essential work readiness skills for all jobs and careers.

In addition, for states that engage in the ACT Work Ready Communities effort, additional NCRC data and information is available for economic developers to leverage to promote the quality of their workforce.   

SS: Are you satisfied with the number of states and counties promoting the importance of ACT-designated Work Ready Communities?

DL: While progress is being made, more communities could benefit from engaging in ACT Work Ready Communities and leveraging the ACT NCRC in helping to build a stronger workforce. This would also provide communities with data to share with capital investors on the quality of their workforce. ACT offers enrollment in Work Ready Communities twice a year and is currently accepting applications. In a perfect world, all areas interested in attracting new facilities would have available skills data, such as numbers of NCRCs, at their fingertips, and site location decision-makers would know what to ask for along these lines. But it’s not a perfect world yet. 

SS: What do areas need to do (that aren’t already doing it) to make data, like ACT’s, more available to potential capital investors?

DL: More community colleges, workforce agencies and/or economic development organizations should leverage and use third-party, industry-recognized, quality credentials like the ACT NCRC to enable them to demonstrate that their education and training facilities are ensuring that individuals leaving their programs are equipped with skills and competencies valued by industry. These credentials are developed with input from industry and industry associations and ensure certificate holders that receive these credentials have demonstrated mastery of essential skills and competencies needed and valued by employers.

SS: What do companies need to do to access skills data more effectively? Is it about HR managers working more closely with real estate executives on business expansion plans?

DL: There is much collaborative work to be done here. However, one example of what can be done to be helpful is for organizations — like the Society for Human Resource Managers — to work with credentialing agencies to educate hiring managers on the quality credentials in the market place and how to use them to make better hiring decisions.  

SS: Are there too many skills credentialing options out there? Is there an effective way for companies to find and use the right one?

DL: It is hard to say that there are too many — because so much of the credential work is at the institution level and not much outside of local adoption of these credentials is known. What is needed is to bring order to the credentialing chaos and to move to national standards to determine the elements of a quality credential. This work is currently taking place through an initiative known as Credential Engine — formally the Credential Transparency Initiative.  

SS: Why and how is ACT revising its Work Keys program?

DL: ACT has been paying close attention to what industry and industry associations are saying are the competencies and skills needed in today’s and tomorrow’s workforce. Two bodies of evidence that are informing the current enhancement of its workforce portfolio are (1) the Common Employability Framework published by the National Network of Business and Industry Association; and (2) the ACT Holistic Framework for Enhancing Education and Workplace Success. 

SS: Which groups or initiatives, such as the Business Round Table (BRT) and work they’re doing, should Site Selection readers get up to speed on? 

DL: There are limited efforts taking place at a national level around workforce development that are business driven. Two efforts may be of interest to Site Selection readers:

  • The work being moved forward by the BRT — known as Credentialing Engine [formerly the Credentialing Transparency Initiative]
  • The Talent Pipeline Management work being led by the US Chamber Foundation.  

In addition, Jeff Finkle, president of IEDC, may be a good resource. He has been increasing training of economic developers in the IEDC Certified Economic Developer program. Another economic developer to possibly chat with is Neal Wade, Director of the Economic Development Academy at the University of Alabama. He is organizing a national program around high-level training of seasoned economic developers that includes a workforce development aspect.

SS: What should readers become conversant in with respect to workforce skills assessment in 2017?

DL: Readers may want to begin to think about learning more about quality credentials based on measuring and validating competencies and how they can and will play a more significant role in learning, training, hiring and promotions of the workforce. Readers that are connected to workforce development may want to ensure their strategies have a national, third-party credentialing component that is validating skills mastered. In addition, they want to ensure they are able to receive and share aggregate community credential completion data on a regular basis.

ACT is currently in the process of updating its flagship National Career Readiness Certificate assessments and credential, and has recently shared with clients and partners its commitment to enhancing its portfolio with the addition of all-new products and services that will provide greater alignment to the 21st century skills recently identified.  

Mark Arend
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.


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