Over the next decade there will be nearly three and a half million manufacturing jobs that need to be filled. It’s projected that over two million of those jobs are going to go unfilled due to the skills gap. This creates a trickledown effect as every job in manufacturing creates another two and a half jobs in local goods and services.

If the skills gap in this country is to be addressed, the time to act is now.

Crestwood High School has answered that call, offering their students a variety of programs that will better prepare them for the workforce. Among those is the YES (Your Employability Skills) Northeast Certificate Program. In this 120 hour 1-credit elective, students learn the intricacies of communications, health & safety, personal development, quality & technology, and teamwork. These modules better prepare them for a career in any industry.

In addition to the curriculum, they have the opportunity to hear from business professionals through speaking engagements and mock interviews. Each district also takes four different facility tours throughout the school year. On these tours, they are given a direct insight into the careers that are available, as well as the goods and services that are produced in their own backyards.

Since Crestwood began offering the program in 2008, 139 students have earned their certificate. In order to earn the certification, students must complete the 120 hours of coursework, earn passing scores on both the TABE (Test of Adult Basic Education) and the Wonderlic Cognitive Ability Test, demonstrate an attendance of 95% or better, pass a 6-panel drug screen, and earn their high school diploma.

To further boost their student’s chances of succeeding in the workplace, Crestwood also has their students take the WorkKeys Assessment, which is a job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce. This series of tests measures foundational and soft skills and offers specialized assessments to target institutional needs.

Locally, the test is administered at all CareerLink offices. “If students are going to be adequately prepared for the workforce, they need to understand the requirements for jobs they are considering,” said PA CareerLink Administrator Christine Jensen. “WorkKeys helps students determine the skill levels required for various jobs. This assessment, coupled with the curriculum of the YES Program, helps ensure that individuals are ready for work and for life.”

As a testament to the teaching and guidance they received, all 18 students that earned their YES Certification also earned a certificate through WorkKeys with 2 students earning gold, 13 earning silver and 3 earning bronze.

“The opportunity to consistently participate in the Work Keys testing protocol affords Crestwood students the opportunity to add to their employment portfolio and compete for employment on a national scale,” said Crestwood Principal Christopher Gegaris. “Over time Crestwood students have scored well above the norm demonstrating that a Crestwood graduate has the necessary skill set to gain employment and as a group are career ready.”

It’s no surprise that many local employers are utilizing both the YES Program and WorkKeys in their search to find a better workforce. Steve Vasko, Environmental and Security Manager at OMNOVA Solutions’ Auburn Plant, has been a longtime supporter of both initiatives. “As a manufacturer, one of the most challenging parts of our business is finding quality employees,” said Vasko. “We know that when a YES graduate interviews with us, they have been exposed to skills such as proper workplace etiquette, coworker interaction, and employer expectations that give them an advantage integrating into our workforce.”

Due to the success of the YES Program, Crestwood has decided to add an entire new section for the current school year. This year’s group of 35 is led by longtime YES teacher Lorri Goss and first year teacher Greg Myers.

In making the link between the YES Program and WorkKeys, it appears that Crestwood may have found the formula necessary to start combating the rising skills gap plaguing this country. If more area school districts take their lead, it will undoubtedly give the region a leg up when it comes to producing a quality workforce.