WAGE AND ITS PARTNERS
WAGE offers two types of basic skills training: pre-employment training and training for incumbent workers. For pre-employment training, WAGE recruits adults who score less than 12.9 on the Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) and are seeking work. For incumbent workers, WAGE works with local employers seeking to upgrade their workers' skills. One strength of the WAGE model is that local communities can decide if they want to emphasize pre-employment training, for example, when employers are hiring, or incumbent worker training when employers are not hiring.
Curricula for both incumbent worker training and pre-employment training are designed to address the competencies identified through the survey and the LTAs, summarized in the WAGE Essential Skills Matrix. WAGE staff use the matrix to calculate which competencies local businesses most often identify as essential, and those become part of the list of competencies learners must master to receive a WAGE Certificate.
WAGE HELPS THE WHOLE COMMUNITY
"Improving the workforce provides support to an employer's competitive edge—better performance on the job means improved products, better services and increased profits. The community as a whole realizes a return on investment when a WAGE graduate is employed—they spend their income in their community and are able to contribute to their community's tax base."
WAGE is committed to teaching basic skills in the context of the functional skills needed in the workplace. WAGE staff regularly collect materials from their business partners to use as real examples in their curriculum. They call this the "Functional Hooks" teaching method, and it is an integral part of the WAGE program. WAGE also uses the PLATO curriculum software, which has been adapted to provide workplace-relevant examples in math, writing, and reading.
WAGE offers three certificates. The Employability Certificate, which all WAGE students must earn to graduate, requires 12 hours of class time and a score of 9.5 or better on the TABE. Employers in El Dorado view this certificate, often nicknamed the "WAGE certificate," as solid evidence that the holder is a good worker with the basic skills needed to succeed in an entry-level job. Learners also have the option of earning a Clerical or Industrial Certificate. While Employability Certificate requirements are set locally because they reflect the local job task analyses, those for the Industrial and Clerical certificates are standard across all WAGE programs.
WAGE certificates are a "ticket to a job," in the words of one learner. WAGE business partners give preferential treatment in the hiring process to WAGE certificate holders. And even businesses that are not active partners with WAGE are very aware of the certificates and take them as strong evidence that holders are not only competent in specific workplace skills, but also highly motivated. WAGE training and the certificates are so highly valued by local employers that WAGE students in El Dorado, as well as throughout the state, are often hired before they complete the requirements and receive their certificate.
"I didn't know where to begin. I felt hopeless and helpless and alone. Since I found the WAGE program, my expectation[s] of myself have gotten a lot higher. I have learned a lot about computers. I have more faith in myself now."
The WAGE advisory group has about 30 members, a large group for a community this size. Its monthly meetings often draw as many as 60 or 70 people. The group meets at South Ark, a location convenient for many businesses. In addition to lunch, the costs of which are sometimes covered by local businesses if WAGE's coffers are low, members are treated to a keynote speech from an invited guest, a feature many business representatives value highly.
At these meetings, WAGE administrators and their business partners inform the larger community of WAGE activities and get feedback and guidance on strategic decisions. New WAGE graduates receive their certificates in a ceremony—to much applause—and have the opportunity to say a few words and pass out their resumes. Exactly why these meetings are so popular (drawing considerably better attendance than local Workforce Investment Board meetings) is unclear, even to the director of WAGE. She once suggested that the group meet every other month, instead of every month, and was immediately overruled!
One explanation for the vitality and centrality of this group in El Dorado is that it is has become the "place to be for the movers and shakers of the community," and its meetings are simply not to be missed. Another is that members feel pride in and responsibility for the WAGE program and want to contribute to its continuing success. In any case, the meetings are obviously a sign of a flourishing partnership.