Charleston Job Corps – Helping Students Succeed in the Modern Business World

Charleston Job Corps started using the OPAC Software and Online Certification in their Office Administration program this year. James Brown, an instructor in the program, was enthusiastic about sharing his students’ success with us:

Since 2014, the Charleston Job Corps Office Administration program has been using the OPAC Software in the classroom. OPAC software is a system that measures the clerical skills and abilities in today’s modern job-related world. As the Office Administration Instructor I use OPAC for helping my students achieve certifications that will lead to long-term high paying careers in the business world. The certifications make my students want to get their business certifications and help them achieve their goals. One awesome feature of the OPAC software is that it allows my students to get an industry credential the first day in my class and makes them excited to grasp more material. OPAC has also led to competition in the classroom which engages the students to achieve lifelong success by getting multiple certifications. I highly recommend the OPAC software to any instructor who wishes their students to succeed in the modern business world.

James Brown
Office Administration Instructor
Charleston Job Corps 

Having Trouble Finding Qualified Candidates? You’re Not Alone.

By Susan Fenner, Ph.D.

Having Trouble Finding Qualified Candidates?

Having Trouble Finding Qualified Candidates?

“According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, office and administrative positions are projected to have 7.4 million total job openings between 2010 and 2020, the largest number among the 24 occupational groups it tracks.” This is the lead-in to the 2014 Salary Guide published by OfficeTeam. The annual Guide began in 1996 and continues to provide vital information on starting pay, salary ranges, and hiring practices for more than 60 administrative positions in the U.S. and Canada.

OfficeTeam found that employers are looking for workers who:

  • Are familiar with the industry and can hit the ground running.
  • Are self-starters and can collaborate with others to get the job done.
  • Are tech savvy, especially with Microsoft Office applications and social media.
  • Have excellent communication skills – verbally and in writing – for sharing information with co-workers, higher ups, customers, and business partners.
  • Have a positive attitude and can make things happen.

But more than half of the HR managers surveyed said they are having difficulty finding qualified candidates. Where’s the disconnect?

Businesses must create job descriptions that fit the times, but also prepare individuals for future roles. They need to identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities that an ideal candidate would bring to the job and not be afraid to set standards high. They ought to do pre-testing to verify the actual skills candidates possess. As the job evolves, they need to provide training to make up for any skill gaps.  Companies that invest in their human capital will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Resources for helping you find and train the most qualified candidates:

Schools must interact with business and prepare students for the new workplace. Curriculum has to be geared toward future jobs, not ones of the past. Students need to assess careers based on personal values – realistic prospects for obtaining employment; salary potential; good match with talents and passions; advancement possibilities; continuing education, licensing, or certification requirements; time and money invested in education. Graduating students need to complete valid and relevant tests to prove that they have the skills they need. And, the process of updating or changing curricula must be streamlined for a quicker response to changing times.

Students and job candidates need to get as much job experience as they can. This includes summer or part-time jobs, internships, or other workplace exposure. They must do their homework on the industries and companies where they are applying. They should supplement good grades with extracurricular involvement – volunteer work, school activities, leadership positions, competitive events, community outreach. Employers want workers that have the know-how and the ability to relate well with others and take initiative.

The outlook for administrative programs and employment for graduates look good. New jobs are being created and positions that were eliminated are coming back, although with new requirements. Business is willing to work with education to tailor programs to today’s new workplace; salaries have risen and are now attracting attention. According to the 2014 Salary Guide, it’s a good time to establish and promote administrative programs and certification.

About the Author

Susan Fenner, Ph.D.Susan Fenner, Ph.D. has made a career out of following workplace and workforce trends. For more than 25 years, she was the Manager of Education and Professional Development for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and now serves as the Chief Learning Architect for Speakers You Need (SyN), a consortium of subject-matter experts who provide training to organizations. She was the Admin Support Advisor on Monster, and had columns in Office Solutions and OfficePro magazines. She was also the General Editor for The Complete Office Handbook. Susan has worked with business educators and corporations to prepare office professionals to excel in their roles. She has also worked with educators to develop a business/administrative curriculum used throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Demonstrating Value

By Susan Fenner, Ph.D.

Demonstrating ValueIf you want to track down the number of lawsuits filed within the past year against businesses and educational institutions, good luck. There are so many of them, you could scroll through page after page on Google and still not find a total number. But, the point is made – each year more organizations are being held accountable for things they did and didn’t do. Sexual harassment, discrimination, breach of personal data, workplace violence, ADA/FMLA/ACA/DOMA/OSHA, product liability, and more. One suit affecting educators is graduating students when they don’t have the skills they are purported to have and/or can’t get jobs.

In today’s crazy marketplace, there are more job seekers than openings, more demands on skills and qualities from employers, and less taking of an applicant’s word on proficiencies listed on a résumé. So, what’s the answer? One answer used by many institutions is certification. And many use the Office and Proficiency Assessment Certification (OPAC).

Certification is demonstrated proof that a student is exiting a program with identified skills as measured by an assessment that is valid, reliable, and verifies to an employer that a student has all the proficiencies needed for a job. Why is this a win/win/win?

Schools are winners because they have solid proof that their programs do what they say they will do – graduate students with the skills employers say they want, as shown by independent test scores. There’s no “Yeah, I can ‘do’ Word and Excel and Access.” Applicants will have a certification that outlines all the functions they have mastered.

Employers will know they can rely on that institution for qualified candidates who meet established criteria for entry-level positions. No more guessing. They know the skills these workers bring to the job. Candidates will have computer, reading and writing, financial, business functions, data entry, customer service, and other soft skills for today’s workplace. Most companies are no longer are posting jobs for data-entry or bookkeeping; they want someone who can do it all. They want employees with technology and people skills, employees who can cross-function and do it all. These are the employees with recognizable talents who can be groomed for more responsibilities and promotions.

Students are definitely winners because they get what they paid and worked for – the skills to get them a good-paying job that matches their interests and abilities, with opportunities for advancement. When all else is equal, which candidate do you think will be offered the job – the one with words on a résumé or the one with a certification? Hands down, certification trumps a candidate’s say-so.

And back to lawsuits… As they pile up more each year, you will be putting your institution in an unassailable position and putting your reputation and results on the line. There will be no question that you produce successful, employment-ready students who can easily compete with others. You have proven winners to show employers. The only Google pages you will appear on will be “excellent business programs.”

About the Author

Susan Fenner, Ph.D.Susan Fenner, Ph.D. has made a career out of following workplace and workforce trends. For more than 25 years, she was the Manager of Education and Professional Development for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and now serves as the Chief Learning Architect for Speakers You Need (SyN), a consortium of subject-matter experts who provide training to organizations. She was the Admin Support Advisor on Monster, and had columns in Office Solutions and OfficePro magazines. She was also the General Editor for The Complete Office Handbook. Susan has worked with business educators and corporations to prepare office professionals to excel in their roles. She has also worked with educators to develop a business/administrative curriculum used throughout the U.S. and Canada.

FAQs about the New Online Certification in OPAC 10.8

We’re pleased to announce a new version of OPAC featuring a significant upgrade to the OPAC Certification process. The OPAC Certificates are now electronic and online! Current classroom clients will receive their upgrade CD soon.

Q. Why is the new online OPAC Certification a big deal?

The OPAC Certification has been a staple in the business education community for twenty years now.  The thing is that paper certificates—like diplomas—are nice for hanging on a wall, but they aren’t very useful otherwise.  Electronic certificates, on the other hand, are portable, renewable, verifiable, and permanent.

Q. What does this new certification mean for business educators?

Business educators’ main focus is the development of their students.  One thing that educators will all agree upon is that students need something to encourage them.  Encouragement to do their best, encouragement to complete, encouragement to push as far as they can push…all are vital.  The OPAC electronic certificates take on this encouragement role wonderfully.  Rather than waiting to the very end of the students’ program to issue a certificate, the new OPAC electronic certificates should be administered early in a program.  Once done, students are notified electronically that the certificates exist.  As the students achieve certification levels on more tests, the certificates update automatically, creating an impetus for students to achieve more and more success.  An unintended consequence of certifying up front is that the instructors are not under pressure come graduation time to be certain that the certificate data is transmitted and the certificates are received in time for graduation or program’s end.

Q. How will it benefit business students?

The new online OPAC Certificates feature an online certificate that is a PDF-based document.  Upon initial certification, this PDF document is emailed directly to the student, along with a link to the OPAC Certification website.  This website permanently stores the OPAC Certification data so that certificates may be displayed and saved at any time.  Built in to each certificate is a permalink that students can insert into their job applications so that prospective employers are able to view and verify their OPAC Certificates.  A lost certificate can be remedied by simply returning to the OPAC Certification website, searching by name, and printing, saving or emailing a new copy of the certificate.

Q. Is the online certification available now? How do current clients upgrade?

The OPAC certification site is up and running and is compatible with OPAC 10.8 and above.  Classroom clients on annual maintenance are receiving their latest copies of the software.  Any clients wishing to issue OPAC Certificates should contact their OPAC Software representatives at 800-999-0438 and get a new copy of the software!

Additional Information:

Students Meet the Job Market Head-on with OPAC Modern Office Technology Certification

Whenever a student attempts to transition from the safety of the schoolhouse to the dangers of the real world, the outcome is much more likely to be positive if he or she is prepared. A new, electronic job-ready certification from OPAC will help make this a reality.

When it comes to making a successful transition from student life to career life, it helps to have a recommendation. But how does one do so if she has never been employed? The old adage, it is not what you know but rather, who you know, can be a very helpful way to get one’s foot in the door with an employer. In order to impress, applicants must show that what they know can carry the day. The electronic certification from OPAC can help with both aspects. Because the OPAC software is used by employers to measure critical skills and abilities necessary for success on the job, students who are already certified have a document that speaks to their level of proficiency.

What employers want, need and expect from their job applicants is one who possesses the fundamental computer skills, such as keyboarding, data-entry and ten-key, and also knows how to use the installed software tools that automate so much of our work. Job applicants must be able to use word-processing software to create documents such as business letters, reports, meeting minutes and bulletins. They must be able to manipulate numbers and data sets using spreadsheet programs. Presentations must be generated that are nice-looking, articulate and thoughtful. Gone are the days when these skills would be trained on the job. Employers simply expect their applicants to possess them on day one of the job.

Additional Information:

“We are proud to introduce the new and improved, electronic version of the OPAC certificate,” explains OPAC V.P. of Products Michael Callen. “Students are able to take tests at licensed testing locations that will electronically (and instantly) upload the scores to the OPAC Certification server. Students are not only able to print additional copies directly from the website, but are provided with a permalink that can be shared in electronic resumes or job applications with employers. No more waiting for days or weeks for certificates to be generated, printed, and mailed. The best part is that if a student becomes certified in more areas after a certificate is issued, the e-certificate will be updated automatically as long as the testing took place at the same test location.”

If you are a business educator interested in providing OPAC certification to your students or would like more information, please contact us.

Is it a Good Idea to use SAT Scores for Making Employment Decisions?

by Dan A. Biddle, Ph.D.

Many recent news posts reveal that some employers are beginning to use SAT scores as “factors” in the hiring process. Examples include:

Recruitment DecisionsWhile arguments abound regarding the benefits of using SAT scores as indicators of future job success (especially for jobs dealing with vast volumes of complex information), is this a safe practice for employers from a Title VII (test discrimination) perspective? Another important question is: “Do SAT scores provide more useful information on applicant quality than other measures?” Let’s take these questions one at a time…

First, the Title VII liability issue. When it comes to test discrimination liability, Title VII is quite straight forward: If an employer uses a “practice, procedure, or test” (or “PPT”) that results in success rates that are significantly different between groups, such PPT is actionable (by either plaintiff or federal regulatory groups) under Title VII. This means that the employer can be taken into court and required to “make a demonstration” that their challenged PPT is “job related for the position in question and consistent with business necessity” (1991 Civil Rights Act, Section 703[k][1][A][i]). Because SAT scores might not directly map to concrete and observable skills and abilities that are needed for many jobs, making such a “job relatedness demonstration” would rely on either “construct” or “criterion-related” validity defense under the current federal testing regulations (the “Uniform Guidelines,” 29 CFR 1607).

Both of these techniques would require the employer to prove that SAT scores were statistically significantly correlated with meaningful aspects of job performance. In other words, SAT scores would have to directly translate to job performance in a statistically meaningful way. While conducting such a study might prove this out, the employer is still taking a substantial risk!

Note that such a case would also depend on just how the SAT scores were used—whether they were used in a fixed way or if they were only “soft considerations” combined with many other data points. Further, employers would be challenged to defend SAT scores if they were used by different hiring managers in different ways.

Second, do SAT scores provide more useful information regarding applicant quality than other measures? The short answer is “not likely.” This is because human performance is made up of a myriad of different factors, including smarts, personality traits, drive, experience, discipline, background, motivation, and the list goes on. Further, each of these performance ingredients is needed in different levels, and in some cases different ways, for various positions. That’s why the best selection process is always one that “wraps” various PPTs around the specific job by profiling the job using a thorough job analysis. Only then can the employer be sure that the most important success factors are being properly measured and weighted in a selection process.

Our firm has developed hundreds of custom PPTs for hundreds of employers. We’ve also defended several tests in litigation settings. If I had to choose between a quick and easy measure like SAT scores (perhaps coupled with an interview) and a robust selection system that considered several different competencies and weighted them according to the specific job needs, I would choose the latter every time.

Microsoft Office Testing in OPAC

The OPAC office skills testing software includes Microsoft Office tests for Excel, Work, Outlook, Access, and PowerPoint.

The two questions that we’re asked most often about this capability are:

  • What Microsoft Office skill levels does OPAC test for?
  • Which version of Microsoft Office does OPAC test for?

What Microsoft Office skill levels does OPAC test for?

Hundreds of business educators and office professionals were surveyed as to the frequency, importance and difficulty of each of the functions available in the MS Office applications. Those that were determined to be important and used frequently were classified into the basic and more advanced (intermediate) functions.

OPAC tests for both basic and more advanced skills in Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Access. Also, you can customize these assessments or create your own to fit your specific employment testing needs.

Which version of Microsoft Office does OPAC test for?

Currently, OPAC includes testing capabilities for Office 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2013. We are continually updating the software and are committed to staying up to date with the Microsoft Office suite.

If you have any questions about OPAC, please let us know!

New OPAC Customer Proof Reading Test

The latest version of the OPAC Office Skills Testing Software includes a custom proof reading test. In this video, Victor Muh explains what this is and how to implement it.

If you have questions about the new custom proof reading test or the OPAC Office Skills Testing Software, please contact us!

Employers Say Skills Are Lacking – In Candidates and New Hires

By Susan Fenner, Ph.D.

Job Skills NeededToday, more than ever before, employers say job candidates are lacking basic skills. They may have a degree or a diploma, but don’t measure up to workplace standards. Several skills areas frequently mentioned include:

  • Speaking skills. Many of us have grown lax and don’t even hear ourselves use phrases like, “he don’t”, “it ain’t right”, “he and me went” and so on. But others do hear it and it will keep someone from getting a job or a promotion.
  • Business writing. With Twitter and texting, it’s easy to fall into the trap of shortcutting and taking liberties with generally accepted writing rules. But, whether it’s a letter, memo, e-mail, phone message, or a report, employers expect employees to write, proof, and distribute proper, clear, and error-free messages.
  • Understanding numbers. Everyone is responsible for the bottom line and the bottom line is defined by numbers. Without being well-grounded in simple and complex math, you won’t have value.
  • Interpersonal skills. Today’s workplace requires teamwork – with people above and below your rank, people inside and outside the company. If you can’t accept feedback, handle emotions, resolve conflict, and work well with others, you won’t be hired and if on the job, could be fired.
  • Adaptability. Change is constant. We all have to adapt – to new things, new people, new ways, new technologies. If you can’t adapt and if you don’t quickly bounce  back after set-backs, you won’t last long.
  • Problem solving and critical thinking. Employers want employees who can innovate, analyze situations, and find solutions to problems. With less people and fewer resources, employees have to be self-directed, work independently as well as in teams, and think on their feet.

These skills seem common sense. But they are not transferring into the workplace. Some of these skills can be measured, some observed, others are harder to assess. But all of them are essential.

One excellent program for assessing skills of job candidates and skill gaps for employees is the Office Proficiency Assessment and Certification (OPAC) program. OPAC can measure Microsoft applications like Word, Excel, PowerPolnt. Outlook, Windows, and Access. It also evaluates clerical functions, such as writing skills and customer service – providing valuable feedback – before you hire or consider promoting an employee. They also have specialty tests for legal, medical, and financial settings.

Using OPAC is like having a competency expert sitting in on your interviews. You don’t have to rely solely on what you see and read about them. You can delve into what they can really do and the skills they bring to your work team.

 Download Making It Work at Work (Issue 1, January, 2014)

About the Author

Susan Fenner, Ph.D.Susan Fenner, Ph.D. has made a career out of following workplace and workforce trends. For more than 25 years, she was the Manager of Education and Professional Development for the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) and now serves as the Chief Learning Architect for Speakers You Need (SyN), a consortium of subject-matter experts who provide training to organizations. She was the Admin Support Advisor on Monster, and had columns in Office Solutions and OfficePro magazines. She was also the General Editor for The Complete Office Handbook. Susan has worked with business educators and corporations to prepare office professionals to excel in their roles. She has also worked with educators to develop a business/administrative curriculum used throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Glossary of Terms: Testing & Validation

A resource for HR Professionals utilizing pre-employment testing for hiring in their organization:

 Download the Testing & Validation Glossary of Terms (PDF)

Adverse Impact: A substantially different rate of selection in hiring, promotion, or other employment decision that works to the disadvantage of members of a race, sex, or ethnic group.

Angoff Ratings: Ratings that are provided by SMEs on the percentage of minimally qualified applicants they expect to answer the test item correctly. These ratings are averaged into a score called the “unmodified Angoff score” (also referred to as a “Critical Score”).

Critical Score: The score level of the test that was set by averaging the Angoff ratings that are provided by SMEs on the percentage of minimally qualified applicants they expect to answer the test items correctly.

Cutoff Score: The final pass/fail score set for the test (set by reducing the Critical Score by 1, 2, or 3 CSEMs).

CSEM: Conditional Standard Error of Measurement. The SEM at a particular score level in the score distribution (see SEM definition below).

DCR: Decision Consistency Reliability. A type of test reliability that estimates how consistently the test classifies “masters” and “non-masters” or those who pass the test versus fail.

DIF: Differential Item Functioning. A statistical analysis that identifies test items where a focal group (usually a minority group or women) scores lower than the majority group (usually whites or men), after matching the two groups on overall test score. DIF items are therefore potentially bias or unfair.

ETS: A person’s true score is defined as the expected number-correct score over an infinite number of independent administrations of the test

Item Difficulty Values: The percentage of all test takers who answered the item correctly.

Job Analysis: A document created by surveying SMEs that includes job duties (with relevant ratings such as frequency, importance, and performance differentiating), KSAPCs (with ratings such as frequency, importance, performance differentiating, and duty linkages), and other relevant information about the job (such as supervisory characteristics, licensing and certification requirements, etc.).

Job Duties: Statements of “tasks” or “work behaviors” that describe discreet aspects of work performance. Job duties typically start with an action word (e.g., drive, collate, complete, analyze, etc.) and include relevant “work products” or outcomes.

KSAPCs: Knowledges, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics. Job knowledges refer to bodies of information applied directly to the performance of a work function; skills refer to an observable competence to perform a learned psychomotor act (e.g., keyboarding is a skill because it can be observed and requires a learned process to perform); abilities refer to a present competence to perform an observable behavior or a behavior which results in an observable product (see the Uniform Guidelines, Definitions). Personal characteristics typically refer to traits or characteristics that may be more abstract in nature, but include “operational definitions” that specifically tie them into observable aspects of the job. For example, dependability is a personal characteristic (not a knowledge, skill, or ability), but can be included in a job analysis if it is defined in terms ofobservable aspects of job behavior. For example: “Dependability sufficient to show up for work on time, complete tasks in a timely manner, notify supervisory staff is delays are expected, and regularly complete critical work functions.”

Outlier: A statistical term used to define a rating, score, or some other measure that is outside the normal range of other similar ratings or scores. Several techniques are available for identifying outliers.

Point Biserial: A statistical correlation between a test item (in the form of a 0 for incorrect and 1 for correct) and the overall test score (in raw points). Items with negative point biserials are inversely related to higher test scores, which indicates that they are negatively impacting test reliability; positive point biserials are contributing to test reliability in various levels.

Reliability: The consistency of the test as a whole. Tests that have high reliability are consistent internally because the items are measuring a similar trait in a way that holds together between items. Tests that have low reliability include items that are pulling away statistically from other items either because they are poor items for the trait of interest, or they are good items that are measuring a different trait.

SEM: Standard Error of Measurement. A statistic that represents the likely range of a test taker’s “true score” (or speculated “real ability level”) from any given score. For example, if the test’s SEM is 3 and an applicant obtained a raw score of 60, his or her true score (with 68% likelihood) is between 57 and 63, between 54 and 66 (with 95% likelihood), and between 51 and 69 (with 99% likelihood). Because test takers have “good days” and “bad days” when taking tests, this statistic is useful for adjusting the test cutoff to account for such differences that may be unrelated to a test taker’s actual ability level.

SME: Subject-matter expert. A job incumbent who has been selected for providing input on the job analysis or test validation process. SMEs should have at least one-year on-the-job experience and not be on probationary or “light/modified duty” status. Supervisors and trainers can also serve as SMEs, provided that they know how to perform the target job.

Additional Resource:

Pre-Employment Testing Software Provides Defensibility (video)