By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
The recent achievement by a group of area educators, business owners, and state and local officials has given Quay County and Tucumcari a nationally recognized tool that can be used to attract new economic development.
“One of the main things businesses look at in a potential site for expansion is whether or not there is a workforce large enough to accommodate its needs,” said Patrick Vanderpool, executive director for the Greater Tucumcari/Quay County Economic Development Corp.
On Friday, more than 30 people attended the Quay County ACT Work Ready Community Program’s kick-off at the North American Wind Research and Training Center at Mesalands Community College.
The kickoff celebrated the completion of goals by the Quay County ACT Program needed to become one of New Mexico’s first recognized ACT Certified Work Ready Community.
Vanderpool said previously there was no way to demonstrate to potential businesses there was an available workforce with the skill sets they needed. He said an opportunity to change this situation for our area began in July of 2015 when he was told about the ACT’s Certified Work Ready Communities initiative.
Vanderpool, along with City Manager Jared Langenegger, started by attending four work force academies on how to put this program in place. He said a cross-agency team was organized consisting of members from local government, educators, work force, and economic development and business/chamber leaders.
Langenegger said the county group began working with New Mexico Workforce Solutions to administer the ACT workers test that measures skills in reading for information, applied math and locating information. He said the test identifies individuals’ strengths and measures their skill level. The test also identifies any skill gaps an individual may have and how additional training can reduce those gaps.
Langenegger said a person completing the test earns a National Career Readiness Certificate, a nationally recognized credential that can quantify the skill level of the individual to employers. He said currently there are 12 businesses that have begun to use the WorkKeys system and have had their employees take the test.
Rachel Burch, an employee at Buena Vista Labs, was introduced to the WorkKeys system a few months ago “when my fellow employees and I were asked to take the test.”
Company owner John Mihm was the first to enlist in the ACT Program and have his employees take the WorkKeys test.
Mihm said in his business — an optical lens fabrication company — the skill set needed for the job is heavier in math. He said all of his employees more than qualify to perform the their jobs at the lab.
Mihm said all of his employees posses the National Career Readiness Certificate that will help them in future employment.
Burch said if someone has been out of school for a while and is apprehensive about taking a test, “there is no need to worry.” She said there are sample questions and tests available through the WorkKeys website that “helps you to have an understanding of the questions you will encounter.”
“This is not a pass or fail test, it’s not about memorizing answers, you use logic and reasoning,” Burch said. “I feel the test is designed to give people a chance to succeed.”
Burch said even if someone takes the test and feels they did not perform as well as they should have they could always retake the test.
“Do not worry, the test does not place you into an unhireable category,” Burch said. “It just tells you your strengths and weakness. You can take the test as many times as you want and improve your score.”
Burch said taking the ACT WorkKeys test was beneficial to her because she has not earned a college degree and has limited work experience. Burch said before she took the test, she had nothing on paper to show potential employers that she possesses the skills needed for a job.
“I now have a nationally recognized certificate that quantifies my skills to an employer,” Burch said. “I don’t have to worry about a employer taking it on faith that I can do the job.”
“This is by no means the end, it does not mean its done,” Langenegger said.
Langenegger said the goal now is to attract more businesses to take part in the program and test their employees. He said there are also goals that must be met to maintain the certification. Later, there will be work to spread awareness about the program and its benefits throughout Eastern New Mexico to bring more people into the program.
Those interested in taking the test or reviewing sample questions may do so from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on the first and third Friday each month at the Tucumcari Convention Center.