Job Fair 01 (copy)

Corvallis High School senior Olivia Helback, 18, interviews with Patricia Leon with Stahlbush Island Farms at a recent summer job fair. 

Andy Cripe, Gazette-Times

An experiment to give students so-called "employability grades" to help show employers that they have the skills to succeed in the workplace appears to be gaining ground in the mid-valley.

It's a good thing, not just for students who may find that high scores may open the doors to better-paying jobs, but also to employers, who are (justifiably) worried about finding new workers who put a premium on essentials like showing up on time and teamwork.

As the Democrat-Herald's Jennifer Moody reports in a story on today's front page, Sweet Home is the latest school district to join the effort. Sweet Home teacher Jim Costa gave the school board a briefing on the program at a meeting earlier this week. 

The program truly is a mid-valley innovation: It started at the Central Linn School District. Then, Brent Belveal, the principal at South Albany High School, took the idea and developed the "E-score" system that's in use now.

Here's how it works: The employability grade (because educators love to refer to every program by an acronym, you might hear it referred to as an "E-score") gives students a rating on a scale of 1 to 5. The rating takes into account attendance, behavior, tardiness, teamwork, assignment completion and other "soft skills" employers seek when interviewing potential recruits. 

Those skills are important to potential employers, who say they're more than happy to train new employees on the specific tasks they'll do on the job, but can't train basics like the importance of showing up to work every day and getting work done on time.

Costa told the Sweet Home board that the E-scores have no effect on students' grade point averages. But the hope is that students will use them in job interviews, and will also work harder on things like getting to class on time and handing in homework assignments when they're due.

Students sometimes have trouble understanding how a certain school lesson will apply in the so-called "real world." But if they know that employers will be asking about things like punctuality and meeting deadlines, they might start seeing how those attributes could lead directly to a better job.

The ratings are confidential, accessible only by students and their families, Costa told the Sweet Home trustees. "If a student doesn't want to use it, they don't have to." 

But students with strong E-scores will be missing a bet if they don't trumpet them on their job applications. And mid-valley employers are starting to ask about the scores. 

In fact, at least one mid-valley employer suggested this week that a high E-score could make a big difference in a new employee's paycheck. It won't take long for that message to get through to students. 

Sweet Home is joining other mid-valley schools in using the system: In addition to South Albany, Lebanon and Scio have hopped on board. 

At South Albany, Belveal reports that both attendance and graduation rates have improved since the school instituted the E-score, but cautions that he can't point to any direct correlation. 

But we'd be surprised if students aren't already making the connection. And our guess is that students planning to enter the workforce after high school graduation are starting to understand how a good E-score could give them a big edge over other applicants for a good job.

For employers, of course, the E-score helps them find new employees who are ready to work and who have shown they have at least some of the essential skills necessary for success.  

When you combine the E-score program with other innovations such as the Pipeline program, which aims to groom students for good-paying jobs that don't necessarily require four-year college degrees, it's not far off the mark to say that the mid-valley has become a hotbed of workforce innovation. It wouldn't be a surprise to see other regions paying attention. (mm)

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