TalentNEO pilot project

Good help is hard to find — especially when that help is required to write software or run a CNC machine.

The struggle to find skilled employees has pushed 12 local companies to consider a new factor when sifting through resumes: test scores.

Workforce development groups are working to get more manufacturers and information technology companies to join the TalentNEO pilot project, which was created to help companies find employees who have talents that wouldn’t appear on a traditional resume.

The organizers are encouraging the jobseekers they work with to take an aptitude test designed to highlight those talents. As of March 31, roughly 300 Northeast Ohio residents had taken the WorkKeys test through the TalentNEO program.

Those who take the test can hunt for positions that match their skills at, which automatically assigns suggested WorkKeys scores for all kinds of job openings throughout the state. For example, an engineering position might ask for applicants with a high score in applied math. On the other hand, a paralegal position might request a good score in the reading for information category.

Companies also can search for candidates that have the scores they want. Of course, some businesses that aren’t part of the pilot project probably won’t pay much attention to how well someone did on the test, which is offered by the company behind the ACT college admissions exam.

But Rebecca Kusner, who is helping manage the TalentNEO project, said the project is gaining momentum in the business community. For instance, she noted that two of the companies are thinking about softening the requirement that IT employees have a bachelor’s degree.

“I’ve been in workforce development for a long time. You don’t frequently get companies coming to the table willing to rethink how they’re doing hiring,” said Kusner, who is director of strategic planning and policy for New Growth Group LLC, a consulting firm that’s helping Cleveland-based Towards Employment coordinate the TalentNEO project.

Towards Employment is implementing the program in Cuyahoga County and ConxusNEO, which used to be called Summit Workforce Solutions, is focused on Summit County.

Manufacturers and IT companies have a particularly strong motivation to think about hiring people who have the raw talent to do a job but not all of the skills: Companies in both industries for years have been telling Crain’s reporters that they struggle to find skilled employees.

Take SGS Tool Co. in Munroe Falls. The company has a hard time finding people who can run the CNC machines that SGS uses to make drill bits and other cutting tools. So new employees are trained by colleagues with more experience. That training process can take a year, and during that year, the trainers are less productive than they otherwise would be, said Gary Miller, director of training and occupational development at SGS.

So it makes sense that the company wants to at least start with people who have a knack for the job. Thus, for years, SGS has been administering other tests designed to gauge a job candidate’s abilities.

Then why did SGS join TalentNEO? For one, it doesn’t enjoy spending the time and money required to administer tests independently.

Plus, the TalentNEO program could help companies connect with job candidates who otherwise wouldn’t have even considered putting in an application, said Peter Analore, vice president of operations at FormFire.

The Cleveland company, which makes software for insurance brokers, has a constant need for IT talent, Analore said.

The need is so great that FormFire is willing to spend money to send employees to local software development bootcamps that train people to become entry-level coders in just a few months. It has already done so for two employees.

FormFire could put more employees through that process, if they really want to become coders and have the right problem-solving skills, Analore said. The WorkKeys test could help the company find those kinds of people.

But like Miller, Analore has yet to hire someone who took the test, given that only a few hundred people have taken the test through TalentNEO.

That could change. For one, TalentNEO is still in pilot mode. Once it has ironed out the kinks, “then we’ll really be focusing on growing the pipeline,” Kusner said.

Plus, the number of people throughout Ohio who take the test could grow significantly in 2018: That’s when the state — which is phasing out the Ohio Graduation Test — will start accepting WorkKeys test scores as an alternative.

TalentNEO, which is being funded by a long list of philanthropic groups, isn’t wedded to the WorkKeys test. The organizers could choose an alternative or add supplemental tests.

Over time, the plan is to broaden the TalentNEO program to include other industry sectors, such as health care, said Sue Lacy, president of ConxusNEO. Organizers also are trying to figure out what else they can do to help test-takers land jobs.

Those who need help passing the WorkKeys test can take online and in-person “upskilling” courses designed to help them do better. But even those who get high scores will often still need to gain additional skills before starting a job. Thus, organizers are working with local software bootcamps, colleges and other education-related organizations that could help fill those skills gaps.

In some cases, however, jobseekers already have more skills than employers might think. Lacy described how one man who did really well on the WorkKeys test was doing engineering work at his current job, even though he wasn’t considered an engineer.

“It’s the skills that are most critical — even more so than the occupation itself,” she said.

Read original article here.

Soder, Chuck (2016, May 1). TalentNEO pilot project could help companies find hidden talent. Crain’s Cleveland Business. Retrieved from