Chester County offers keys to work

CHESTER -- Chester County Adult Education will shut down its regular operations for four days next month to offer free testing that might help displaced workers find jobs.

The point of this effort is twofold, said Ron Westbrook, director of the adult education program.

First, the goal is to allow as many people as possible to test under WorkKeys, a national skills assessment program. The other reason for the timing is the grant that funds the testing expires at the end of the year, meaning WorkKeys won't be free locally.

Chester County had the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the state in October, and it recently took another blow when Superior Essex announced it was shutting down its plant there, leaving more than 200 people out of work.

"Sooner or later, I think there will be some growth that'll come (to Chester)," Westbrook said. "But there's going to be a long dry spell in between. And I think what people need to understand is rather than just sitting around and ... waiting for something to come, they need to get out there and do something to increase their skills. That's the biggest thing: Get an education."

WorkKeys tests people on reading, math and locating information. The subject matter is similar to what's on the General Equivalency Diploma, or GED, exam.

The idea behind the program is to establish a common language among educators, job applicants, businesses and hiring managers.

Employers can look at an applicant's scores and know what skills that person has.

"It really just helps the whole process of getting restarted in a career," said Cheryl Quinn, director of the Fort Lawn Community Center, which has helped unemployed people find work through WorkKeys. "As an employer, you want the best person for the job. And you want an easy way of knowing that when you get somebody in your door, they're going to know how to do things that you need them to do."

WorkKeys isn't just for those who have lost their jobs, Westbrook said, but the timing of the Superior Essex layoffs and the soon-to-expire S.C. Department of Commerce grant mean that those in Chester who need the program should act quickly.

"That's why we're doing this rush -- to get as many people in as we can," he said.

On Monday and Tuesday, adult education will open its doors to those interested in WorkKeys.

Participants will be able to set up a WorkKeys account, get some information about the test and take an entrance exam.

They have the choice of coming back to adult education to study during the week or preparing for the exam at a home computer. On Dec. 8 and 9, they will be able to come back to adult education and take the test.

Space is limited. So far, 20 people have signed up, Westbrook said. Most of those are former Superior Essex workers.

Anyone wanting to sign up for WorkKeys, a skills-assessment program, can contact Chester County Adult Education at 803-581-9324.