A program for job seekers meant to show potential employers that applicants have the skills to do the job got the thumbs-up Thursday from local employers and officials.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert; Douglas County Board member Chris Rodgers; Erin Porterfield, executive director of Heartland Workforce Solutions; and Randy Thelen with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce joined with executives from First Data and Airlite Plastics on Thursday afternoon to kick off the Heartland Work Ready initiative.

The initiative is a program intended to help job seekers earn the nationally recognized ACT National Career Readiness Certificate. More than 100 civic and business leaders attended the launch event at First Data’s Aksarben location.

Daryl Teitler, vice president for human resources at First Data, told attendees that the company has already hired more than 25 certificate-holders.

Jesse DePriest, an Airlite executive, said, “We need employers to sign up.”

Taking the test speaks volumes about a job seeker, said Thelen, the chamber’s senior vice president for economic development.

“It is not a simple endeavor; it is not a simple test,” Thelen said. “It shows an employer you’ve really put yourself out there, you’ve really taken a risk in your search for a job.”

The certificate is earned after satisfactory completion of a three-hour test that measures reading comprehension, applied math and other skills.

In particular, it could help job seekers who haven’t attended college show a potential employer that they possess “work-ready” skills. The certificate is intended to complement traditional credentials such as high school diplomas, community college degrees and certificates of technical proficiency, ACT spokesman Ed Colby has said.

More than 10,000 employers nationwide recognize the certificate, ACT has said. The organization also produces the ACT test, which measures college readiness.

The Work Ready program is funded in part through Career Readiness to Eliminate Disparities, a City of Omaha initiative, and Metropolitan Community College. The city has approved a $400,000 grant this year for Heartland; part of that money is earmarked for the work readiness certificate program.

Over the next two years the goal is to get about 1,900 people to successfully complete the test, and persuade at least 228 area employers to commit to accepting the certificate as part of their hiring and job description process.

So far, more than 1,300 have received the certificate in Douglas County. The program is expanding to Sarpy and Washington Counties, said Krystal Frost, business service coordinator at Heartland, a nonprofit that serves job seekers.

There is no charge to test takers in the program. Heartland prepares job seekers to take the test and helps potential employers understand the scores, said Porterfield, Heartland’s executive director.

First Data is one of more than 25 companies in the state that support the initiative. Others include Airlite Plastics, AIT Worldwide Logistics, Cargo Zone LLC and HVAC Pros.

Anyone can take the test, including high school students, college graduates, young adults, displaced workers, ex-offenders and veterans, at any of the Douglas County testing sites.

Douglas County test sites include Heartland Workforce Solutions, Metropolitan Community College campuses and the Latino Center of the Midlands.

The test also is offered in Braille and Spanish.

Test takers receive a “pass” or “no pass” on each of the test’s three sections. The level of proficiency for each section is ranked bronze, silver, gold or platinum, the highest level.

Employers and job seekers can visit workreadycommunities.org or contact Heartland Workforce Solutions at hws-ne.org for more information.

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