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The fruit salads of labor

WorkKeys creates a common language between industry and education

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(Podcast: ACT WorkKeys and Pitsco curriculum link students to careers in Greenville, North Carolina. Listen here.)

By Denise Overstreet, Technical Editor

As the saying goes, knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. So it is with education – there is a difference between knowing facts and knowing how to apply information in an effective manner to obtain results. Standardized tests tend to require no more effort from the student than information regurgitation. While that might be a step toward graduation, how does that help the student after graduation? Employers are looking for employees with specific skills for specific positions, and if graduates aren’t able to turn their knowledge into skill, then what has their knowledge gained them?


ACT created the WorkKeys® Assessment System to measure individual skills required for a specific job. More recently, it has also become a tool to measure the skills developed by students through curriculum. It is then used as a means to equip college- and career-ready students so that by the time they graduate, they are prepared with the knowledge and the know-how to step right into the workforce. Employers will be able to see that they have the basic skill set to do the job and are able to be trained further. This is accomplished through the four main aspects of the WorkKeys system: job profiling, assessment, training, and research.

Dorcia Johnson, Documentation Manager for Pitsco Education, explains WorkKeys as “an assessment system designed to measure workplace-readiness skills used in the majority of all occupations. ACT has established a set of skill levels in 12 focused topical areas. Three of these areas (applied mathematics, locating information, and reading for information) combine to form the National Career Readiness Credential. Occupations, curriculum, and assessments can be profiled to these skill levels.”


Mary Paramore, Director of Business & Industry, Continuing Education & Community Development at Pitt Community College in Greenville, NC, began her career as an elementary teacher. She now works with business and industry to learn what skills are necessary for employees to have and understand in the positions they fill. In this way, business and education are being connected with a common language for the good of the students and of the community. Paramore says, “Business people knew they wanted to help. . . . But they didn’t know how to get in or what their role was to help.”

She has also worked with teachers and Pitsco curriculum specialists to assess the curriculum and determine what skills were being taught and at what level. “Teachers will say, ‘Well in the classroom, this is how this gets used’ or ‘this is what we need for support’ and the curriculum specialists right then and there make a note or make a change. . . . What we found is we could identify the exact skills – foundation skills and skills level – that are being nurtured in this curriculum and then we can look at an occupational profile or even a job profile in our community and say, ‘This is what we need.’”


Pitsco Education curriculum has been profiled by a certified ACT profiler and the required subject matter experts. Pitsco Education solutions were reviewed, and corresponding WorkKeys skill levels were determined. Paramore explains that with this curriculum, at a young age, kids are beginning to apply what they learn without the realization that they are forming their knowledge into a skill. Instead, they just have the desire to apply it – to test the knowledge and put it to work.

This hands-on approach to learning is carried throughout the rest of their schooling, producing graduates who have more to offer an employer than rote memorization. They also have more than a specific skill set – they have the experience and the drive to continually apply new information. They have the knowledge that a tomato is a fruit and the wisdom to put that fruit in a side salad.