-Denise Kirgan, HR Director, Cook Companies

The Cook Companies in Canton, Illinois utilize the Spoon River College Office of Community Outreach for all of their pre-employment testing and screening services.  The process starts with potential applicants signing up for KeyTrain, the practice site furnished by ACT to prepare for WorkKeys tests. Once applicants feel prepared to take the WorkKeys tests, they are scheduled for a testing date with SRC.  The day of testing starts with each tester being signed up for the resources of Illinois workNet, including skills and interest profilers, articles on preparing for interviews, etc. and a job search function that searches by location or job type.  Applicants are then tested on three WorkKeys tests on the computer: Applied Math, Locating Information, and Reading for Information, and scores are presented to applicants at the time of testing.  A minimum score of 3 must be achieved for applicants to continue in the testing process.  After a brief lunch break, applicants return and watch the video Observation portion of the test.  The next step is a set of manual dexterity tests, followed by completion of the Cook application.  A complete packet of information is submitted to Denise Kirgan, HR Director of the Cook Companies, located in Canton, Illinois.  The testing procedure is the same whether candidates are interested in Cook Medical, the Canton Harvester Inn, or the Cook Polymer Technology plant. 

According to Kirgan, since July 1, 2011, Cook has hired 54 people at Cook Medical; 8 people for the Cook Polymer Technology plant and 2 people at the Harvester Inn.  Starting wages at the company went from $8.90 in July to $9.40 as of January 1, 2012.  All jobs are computer-related in some way.
Kirgan credits the DCEO grant and Spoon River College for creating opportunities for area residents.  She states that without the grant, “We wouldn’t be hiring from this area.  We would have to seek other entities, like ICC and Carl Sandburg, and send people away.  Through the grant, Spoon River College can locally facilitate the testing needed to staff our facilities.  This allows us to hire local candidates and consider them first.”  In addition, the City of Canton has chosen to pay the WorkKeys testing fees to ACT through city TIF funds in order to help local residents get jobs. 
Kirgan also states that KeyTrain and WorkKeys have helped during the hiring process.  “They are an absolute requirement to hire anyone as spelled out in our Procedure Manual:  Basic math, attention to detail, all of the testing required.  The results allow us to place candidates appropriately within job classes.”
Successes of this process are not only in the business end of the spectrum.  Kirgan shared a story of one of their employees.  “One of our first 30 hires when we opened was a single mom who had spent the majority of her adult life in public housing.  She was able to take KeyTrain and WorkKeys for free and locally because of the grant.  She has now secured a position and has purchased her first home in our community.”
One way that Denise meets candidates for positions is through the job fairs that Spoon River College is able to offer twice a year, in conjunction with the YWCA and CareerLink.  “At the job fair, I meet people and send them to the college for testing.  They are unsure about testing, but when I call them for an interview, they are so excited about the opportunity!  For approximately 45-50% of our employees, when they started with us they received an increase in pay.  Many came from places like gas stations, long term care, waitressing… They gained their self-respect because they were able to do well in KeyTrain and WorkKeys.”