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Elgin program featured on PBS NewsHour

Hoffer Plastics CorporatiPresident Bill Hoffer. | Sun-Times Medifile

Hoffer Plastics Corporation President Bill Hoffer. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: February 27, 2014 6:28AM

ELGIN — A local program that certifies workers have the skills for certain jobs recently got some national exposure.

The city’s National Career Readiness Certificate — an effort that came about through the Elgin Development Group Workforce Committee — was profiled in the Jan. 22 edition of “PBS NewsHour.”

For the segment, special correspondent John Tulenko visited with Hoffer Plastics CEO Bill Hoffer and Fabric Images founder Pat Hayes who tout WorkKeys, the ACT job-readiness test, which is the backbone of the certificate. Based on scores, test takers can earn a workforce readiness certificate, which gives potential employers information on the skills they have.

Hayes tells Tulenko, “WorkKeys, it’s an assessment, what you have accomplished in math, in reading and locating for information. Those three characteristics are in about, I don’t know, 98 percent of the jobs at some level.”

Tulenko states that about 1,000 firms across the country — 100 of them around Elgin — are using the test as a hiring tool.

The test “uses actual workplace scenarios to measure how well individuals can decipher charts, graphs and other visual information, convert ratios, measurements, and make calculations across a variety of situations, and effectively comprehend memos, instructions and other authentic workplace documents,” Tulenko reports.

Tulenko also interviews a worker who went through preparing for and taking the test and some Elgin School District U46 students about the effort.

At Elgin High School — which he describes as “a predominantly low-income school where administrators say half the students go directly into the workforce” — Tulenko found that an overwhelming number of students were not even aware of the readiness certificate program, despite the district’s push in recent years to emphasize it.

Tulenko also talks with U46 Superintendent Jose Torres and Elgin High math teacher Laurie Nehf.

Nehf explains that she is teaching higher math — the kind that winds up on ACT questions, in college courses, and being used in some tech and science jobs — but not the kind of math found on WorkKeys or that is used in 90 percent of jobs, Tulenko reports.

Torres tells Tulenko, “I’m no math expert, but, algebra, what it does, it helps you to think, think critically, think logically.

And that is exactly what people need in the workplace. They need to be able to think critically and logically.”

But, according to Tulenko’s reporting, nationwide 75 percent of 12th-graders scored below proficient in math. At Elgin High School last year, 60 percent of students missed the math mark.

“A number of teachers here told us it’s not uncommon they find students in their classes who have yet to learn the math taught in middle school. Regardless, these students are placed in algebra and geometry,” Tulenko reports.

Nehf told Tulenko, “We won’t accept meeting kids where they’re at and helping them where they’re at. I would love to spend all my time working on percentages, fractions, all that stuff with number sense. Number sense skills are what matter in the real world.”

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