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Quiz applicants on basic skills; don’t wait for national test

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in Hiring,Human Resources

Issue: Business and government leaders will unveil a new national job-readiness test next year that you can give entry-level applicants.

Benefit: Cut down on bad entry-level hires. Spot high-school grads who lack basic skills before you hire them.

Action: Don't wait for the test rollout in 2006. Use current basic-skills testing to weed out "well-papered, poorly skilled" applicants.

Employers often get burned when they assume that applicants with high-school diplomas or GEDs carry basic job skills, such as math, reading and communication.

But one-third of the employers surveyed by the National Association of Manufacturers say poor reading and writing skills are a problem among hourly employees. And the National Adult Literacy Survey found that 48 percent of employees with a high-school diploma or GED have low literacy skills.

Advice: Don't be left guessing about a job candidate's abilities, and don't make assumptions from an interview. Test entry-level applicants on their basic skills.

The good news: You'll soon have access to a new nationally recognized test that can help you gauge entry-level applicants' job readiness. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and state job agencies are working to create the "Equipped for the Future" Work Readiness Credential.

The new credential, which is being refined in testing and focus groups, aims to streamline your hiring process by identifying a pool of work-ready entry-level applicants. It will assess everything from math and verbal skills to basic job skills, such as arriving to work on time. Test results will be portable, so job applicants can show them to potential employers in any state or industry.

In addition to identifying applicants who hold diplomas but limited skills, the credential will also help you spot applicants who lack a GED or high-school diploma (such as immigrants) but they have the entry-level skills you need. Look for the test to be unveiled in 2006 amid a major marketing campaign. (For more on the Work Readiness Credential, go to www.uschamber.com/cwp.)

Advice: Use the new test when it becomes available next year, but don't skip basic-skills testing until then. Assess entry-level applicants using current testing options. Some good resources:

  • The Skills Profiler test by GNeil measures math, reasoning, writing, language and attention to details. Cost: $9.29 for 10 tests. Go to www.gneil.com/product /2.asp.
  • Employee Selection & Development Inc. sells basic skills aptitude tests at www .employeeselect.com/basicAptitude.htm.
  • Contact your local U.S. Labor Department office for testing options. Find a local office at www.dol.gov/esa /contacts/state_of.htm.

Final tip: Federal law says tests must be validated by research showing that they don't have an unfair impact on minorities. Ask vendors and contact your state labor department to check out tests you plan to use.

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