JONESBORO, Ark. — On. Dec 12, Valerie Bowen will turn 16 years old and begin searching for her first job.
The Westside sophomore is a little nervous, but she doesn’t think the search will be too hard.
“There’s a lot of job opportunities here in Jonesboro,” she said, “so I think I can get a job and have good job recommendations from some people.”
Still, Valerie is already working to be proactive — she is currently studying to become a Microsoft certified specialist through Westside High School.
“Mostly because it will help me with my resume and it will help me in the workforce,” she said. “(Work is) just something I want to do so I can make a little more money to spend on what I want to have and to have a little more independence.”
There are 25 Westside students who have received industry certification in Microsoft Office 2013, and six who are retesting for the certification. Kathey Huskey-Wilson, a business technology instructor, is proud of their work.
“They do not have to take this,” Huskey-Wilson said. “We offer it, we encourage it, and we want to see as many as we can take it. It’ll give them a leg up because it is used in some aspect of every job.”
The purpose of the certification is to meet the industry’s demand for workers who are knowledgeable in computer software and are work ready, she said. The certification declares they are proficient in specific programs: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Access Database.
To be certified, students must complete a keyboarding course, a computer business applications course and a 9-week Microsoft Office 2013 course.
They are then required to pass a 50- to 55-minute performance-based exam that asks 20 to 30 questions with one or more tasks. The Arkansas Department of Education brought the program to Huskey-Wilson’s attention. She said it immediately interested her because there are so many students who are unable to work Microsoft office.
State officials gave a PowerPoint presentation on the certification that stated students are twice as likely to be placed, 59 percent more likely to be hired full-time, and average 10 to 15 percent higher pay. It also lowers a high school’s dropout rate.
Huskey-Wilson is in her 10th year as an educator. Prior to that, she worked as a nurse for five years and retired from a Coca Cola office job after 25 years.
Throughout those years, Huskey-Wilson said tasks that she used to complete by hand slowly went to computer-based work, and she had to frequently train people how to use a computer.
“Technology continuously changes,” she said. “It is now mandatory that you know how to use it. Any software students can be proficient in — we want to help them to be skilled in.”
Since lessons started, Valerie has used Microsoft Office 2013 to organize a daily schedule. She is involved in softball, volleyball, Christians Making a Difference and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
She hopes to one day become a veterinarian or physical therapist.
“I know with both you will probably use a computer to help keep track of your patient data, and with Excel you can keep up with your schedule every day,” she said. “It’ll make you more organized.”