PATTERSON -- Faculty at Patterson High School weren't convinced when a prominent developer complained recently that an unprepared work force in Patterson was driving away potential employers.
"We didn't believe our kids didn't have the skills to go into the work force. We could prove they are ready," said Dianne Vargas, the guidance learning coordinator at the high school.
Partially in response to the criticism, the school is launching a series of initiatives to better prepare students for college or jobs after graduation, including opening a career center, bringing employers to campus and administering a work skills test.
Of Patterson High School's 336 seniors, 311 volunteered to take the WorkKeys test in September and October. The three-part test, created by the developers of the American College Test and used in communities throughout the nation, measures basic workplace skills in reading for information, mathematics and locating information.
Test problems include tasks such as reading memos, regulations, instruction manuals, workplace graphics or basic math calculations. Patterson's seniors scored high marks on the test, with 87 percent demonstrating strong work-readiness skills in math and 91 percent in reading.
"Those are outstanding scores. It says a lot about the quality of education in Patterson," said Keith Griffith, the senior manager for education for the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.
The agency spearheaded the WorkKeys project about two years ago. Since then, about 3,000 high school students in Stanislaus County have taken the test. Students are issued a certificate based on their results, as well as a list of
corresponding job descriptions and wages.
Dozens of employers participate in the program, including major manufacturing firms. The businesses create job profiles that can be matched to test scores to see if an individual is qualified to perform certain jobs.
Vargas said the scores "put to rest" the rumor that its high school students weren't prepared for the work force. It also gave the students confidence in their ability to perform jobs they hadn't previously considered, she said, primarily in the manufacturing industry.
The high school invested $10,000 to remodel a room on campus into its first career center, with seven computers that can be used to search for occupational outlooks, job descriptions, and apply for college and financial aid. The career center, scheduled to open the second week of January, eventually will have a local job board, résumé writing assistance and other resources.
To dovetail with the WorkKeys results, the school is organizing a presentation in January with Careers in Manufacturing, a program that aims to match new high school graduates with jobs in Stanislaus County. It includes presentations, assessments of basic skills, and help with job applications and interviews.
Jan Ennenga, executive director of the Manufacturing Council of the Central Valley, estimates that about 130 students have been hired at local manufacturing firms through the program, which began in 2005.
Among its success stories is a female student who was hired part time at Frito-Lay in Modesto while in high school, Ennenga said. She decided to further her technical education at Modesto Junior College and was promoted recently -- at age 20 -- to a high-paying job in Europe with Frito-Lay's parent company, PepsiCo.
Several large employers are expected to attend the Careers in Manufacturing presentation, including Kohl's Co., one of two major distribution centers in the Keystone Business Park in Patterson.
It was Keystone's president, Patrick Gavaghan, who told an audience of 500 people at an economic conference earlier this year that he's had difficulty attracting other businesses to Patterson because of a lack of education and skills.
A Target distribution center that could have employed 450 full-time and 1,200 part-time workers decided to go with another site because Patterson's work force doesn't have enough formal education, Gavaghan said at the time.
Bee staff writer Christina Salerno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-4574.