Will Valet, an award-winning journa, is a communications associate for ACT, an independent, nonprofit organization that provides more than 100 assessment, research, information and program management services in broad areas of education and career planning and workforce development. Valet can be reached at ValetW@act.org.
The motto of The Dixie Group Inc., an Atlanta-based floor-covering company, is Building People as We Build Our Business, but when you have more than 3,000 employees in Georgia, Alabama and California, living up to such a motto is a challenging task. The Dixie Group managers needed a system that could assess job skills, target training to improve skills, reduce turnover, boost productivity and match the right people with the right jobs. The company found a way to achieve all of these objectives through a skills-assessment program created by the same organization that makes the ACT college entrance exam.
Dixie is the fifth-largest floor-covering company in the United States. Its stated value: Our people are our most important resource, and the primary source of our competitive advantage.
Over time, technology has changed the floor-covering industry, requiring new skills and abilities from employees in order to maintain a competitive advantage. For workers to operate at peak efficiency, they need to be sharp in skills such as teamwork, observation and locating information, along with the more typically expected skills in math and applied technology.
As the need for more highly skilled employees at The Dixie Group grew in the late 1990s, the labor pool was shrinking. The company needed to find a way to attract new recruits and motivate current employees to stay for the long term.
WorkKeys, a job-skills assessment system, fits Dixies needs. Through WorkKeys, Dixie found a way to hire and retain workers who can grow and learn fast enough to work in a business that’s constantly changing. It helps the company keep its focus on the growth and knowledge of its workers.
“We can teach our associates how to operate a tufting machine, but we need them to be able to solve problems, analyze production data, troubleshoot, work on a team, quantify results and learn new material fast”, said Alan Artress, WorkKeys development director.
In 1998, Dixie Group leaders committed to using WorkKeys as the foundation of employee education and development initiatives. WorkKeys is a product of ACT, the same company that produces the ACT college-entrance exam. The WorkKeys tests measure skills, unlike other selection exams that test personalities or aptitudes. Once an employee or manager knows a persons scores, training can be arranged to strengthen skills where needed. The result is a qualified, productive employee and a more productive and competitive company.
“Most workers can’t change their personalities, but they can change their skills,” said Tom Saterfiel, senior vice president of ACT. “That makes a skills-based test like WorkKeys perfect for companies who want their employees to grow.”
Several ACT-authorized job profilers set out to identify the skills needed in more than 150 Dixie jobs, including the specific skills needed as well as the l of each skill required to do the jobs effectively. The score ls for each WorkKeys test are then set to reflect each job. Those tests are:
– Applied Mathematics: skills in applying mathematical reasoning to work-related problems.
– Applied Technology: understanding of technical principles as they apply to the workplace.
– Measuring how effectively the person can en to and understand work-related messages.
– Locating Information: using information from such materials as diagrams, floor plans, tables, forms, graphs and charts.
– Observation: paying attention to details in workplace instructions and demonstrations.
– Reading for Information: comprehending work-related reading materials, from memos and bulletins to policy manuals and governmental regulations.
– Teamwork: judgment skills in choosing behavior that furthers workplace relationships and accomplished work tasks.
– Writing: effectiveness in composing work-related messages and summaries.
“Almost immediately after we implemented WorkKeys, we were getting a better picture of where the basic skills of our people were and through profiling, what the requirements of the jobs were.” Artress said. “Within a year, we were able to pinpoint what basic skills training was needed and target those skill areas. WorkKeys is now a critical component of all of Dixies strategic plans relating to development and training.”
The Dixie Group uses the eight assessments in a variety of ways, including for hiring, training, job bidding and deciding promotions and pay increases. Hundreds of Dixie employees are upgrading their skills through classroom, “WorkKeys is designed to be flexible, so people in charge of hiring and training can use it for a variety of purposes,” Saterfiel said.
In addition to pinpointing training for existing employees, Dixie uses WorkKeys as a hiring tool. It identifies candidates who possess critical job skills and have the ability to grow. It has been so effective for Dixie that the vice president of corporate human resources, Derek Davis, said he is implementing WorkKeys as the primary pre-hire assessment tool at all Dixie Group sites.
Many of Dixies technical workers mechanics, lab technicians, electricians, go through a job-bidding process to attain work. WorkKeys has become a part of that process, too. Having good WorkKeys scores helps applicants prove that they meet entry-l criteria.
“It’s a fairer and more objective way to bid,” Artress said.
WorkKeys is also an integral part of the pay-for-skills program within the company. Workers must demonstrate competency in all tasks identified on the WorkKeys job profile task . To qualify for a pay increase, they must score at the effective performance skill l on WorkKeys assessments.
The company also uses a Spanish version of the WorkKeys. It has been so successful that the company plans to continue its use.
The impact of WorkKeys tests goes beyond a better knowledge of the skills needed for jobs. It also affects work output, employee morale and turnover rates. Some of the results the Dixie Group has reported include:
– Higher self-esteem when workers score higher on skill ls.
– Lower turnover in skilled positions when WorkKeys is used in the job-bidding process.
– Higher performance ratings of skilled workers who improve their skill ls.
– A lower rate of operator error when using a WorkKeys job profile as a training check.
– Shorter training periods for employees hired through WorkKeys tests.
– Improved confidence, leading to increased competence.
“As a company, we have confidence that an individual who meets our WorkKeys criteria can learn new materials with relative ease,” Artress said. “Because of WorkKeys, we are better at fitting the right person with the right job.”
“Many employees have moved into higher paying positions strictly based on how well they performed on WorkKeys assessments. Several of these people never completed high school but did well on Work Keys. Using the WorkKeys program is an excellent way to tap into unseen talent,” said Artress.
WorkKeys is used by thousands of companies in the United States and Canada to hire and develop employees. It is part of ACTs Workforce Productivity Solutions, a set of integrated tools and services to improve workforce productivity. The system helps organizations hire, train and retain a qualified workforce, and its components can be used together or separately to help companies recruit, select, hire, train, motivate and retain employees. They include WorkKeys, ACT Centers (a nationwide network of testing and training centers), training evaluation and consultation and ACTs Learning Management System.
For more information on WorkKeys, see www.act.org/workkeys.