Kyle Rhodes and Jeanne Winchell speak on behalf of PESCO during a presentation on Skill Ready Four Corners on Thursday at the San Juan College’s Zia
Kyle Rhodes and Jeanne Winchell speak on behalf of PESCO during a presentation on Skill Ready Four Corners on Thursday at the San Juan College's Zia conference room (Jon Austria/The Daily Times)
FARMINGTON — Local business leaders are starting to implement a program that tests employees before they're hired, saying it can lead to lower turnover and reduced hiring and training costs.

Skill Ready Four Corners uses the Work Keys test, which evaluates applicants based on criteria such as basic math skills, reading comprehension and the ability to observe and learn in the workplace.

Work Keys was created by ACT, the same company that makes the ubiquitous college entrance test.

Some local employers are already using the program. Process Equipment & Service Company Inc. and Twin Stars Ltd. use the test to identify skilled applicants. So does the Farmington Public Library and San Juan County, where turnover among detention officers was a major problem for the Adult Detention Center.

Personnel issues were holding back growth at PESCO, said Kyle Rhodes, president of the Farmington-based oil and gas equipment supplier, which has 300 employees.

“We've always had a challenge with hiring and retaining good people,” he said.

The library began using Work Keys about two years ago to hire for part-time shelving positions. The library's director Karen McPheeters said the program reduced interviewing costs from $1,750 to $750.

“The time saved was amazing,” McPheeters said. “Every single person that we interviewed could do the job.”

Four Corners Economic Development, New Mexico Workforce Connection, the nonprofit group Innovate + Educate and San Juan College are now formally launching the program locally as Skill Ready Four Corners.

On Thursday, Innovate + Educate presented a $50,000 donation to Four Corners Economic Development to implement the program in San Juan County.

Innovate + Educate has already debuted the program in Las Cruces, Albuquerque and other New Mexico communities. The group is funded in part by a three-year, $6 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

About 500 local residents have taken Work Keys tests, including at San Juan College and Bloomfield schools.

Ken Hare, a local rancher who has been involved in economic development efforts, said the test can demonstrate to companies that San Juan College has well-prepared workers.

“We can prove to you we have a qualified workforce,” he said.

Jamai Blivin, CEO of Innovate + Educate, said she eventually wants to create a single number to judge workers' skills, much like a FICO credit score is used to evaluate loan applicants' credit worthiness.

“It will take years, but that's the journey we're on,” she said.

Chuck Slothower can be reached at; 505-564-4638. Follow him on Twitter @DTChuck.