Thinking Media sells training program to ACT

photo Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Sheila Boyington, and her husband, Dane, head up Thinking Media on the Northshore. Thinking Media recently was acquired by ACT Inc.

As unemployment nationwide hovers just below double digit levels, a local company is expanding its reach to help workers enhance their job skills.

For more than a decade, Sheila and Dane Boyington, co-owners of Chattanooga-based Thinking Media, have developed and marketed a software package called KeyTrain that helps people improve their workplace skills.

KeyTrain improves basic work skills measured by ACT Inc.'s WorkKeys assessment system, developed by the Iowa-based company known for its standardized college tests.

About a month ago, ACT Inc. acquired the Boyingtons' KeyTrain brand with its 18 staffers, turning Thinking Media's Frazier Avenue headquarters into a regional office.

"It's really kind of a big deal for Chattanooga," Sheila Boyington said. "We will be on the map in terms of having a large educational institution that has a local office and will have connections to what's going on nationally. There is a huge push for college and career readiness for students and for work force initiatives, and KeyTrain and WorkKeys are a part of that."

The Boyingtons said day-to-day operation of their company will continue pretty much the same as it has been, but they will be on-hand to assist strategically as ACT expands its offerings.

Right now, the couple is still getting a feel for the marketplace reaction to the acquisition, but one of the future goals is to increase sales volume. Currently, the company brings in about $5 million a year in sales, Sheila Boyington said.

Dane Boyington said the change will create more of a "one-stop shop" for ACT. The WorkKeys assessment is the measure for ACT's national career readiness certificate, which people can use to certify their skills to an employer if they do not have a four-year degree.

"One of the things we did and we are working with ACT on is the concept that people who don't have a four-year degree can still certify their skills through a series of stackable certificates," he said.

WHAT IS KEYTRAIN?Thinking Media's KeyTrain brand is a comprehensive system that improves basic workplace skills that are measured by ACT Inc.'s WorkKeys assessment system. KeyTrain is a Web-based system that is also offered in print and as software, focusing on areas such as reading, math, teamwork, observation, listening and work ethic. It is used to prepare people to take the WorkKeys assessment, which is the measure for ACT's National Career Readiness Certificate.Source: Thinking Media, ACT Inc.

The KeyTrain tools are used in 27 states with 7,000 affiliate organizations, the Boyingtons said. The market for the tools includes "anybody working with the unemployed or to-be-employed and people underemployed," often being used in high schools, work force agencies, at community colleges and correctional facilities, Sheila Boyington said.

"You might have a high school diploma or a two-year degree, but that doesn't tell the employer about the basic skills you have," she said.

She said that she and her husband are excited about the changes that will come as they move forward as part of ACT, fulfilling a dream they had when they began their company 13 years ago.

"Every entrepreneur's dream is to develop something, then be bought out by a large company," she said. "And not only did they buy out and own the curriculum, but they decided to keep and retain our entire staff."

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