College & Workforce Readiness

Work Skills of Graduates Seen Lacking

By Rhea R. Borja — October 24, 2006 2 min read
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New employees with just high school diplomas, and even some employees with four-year college degrees, lack the work skills needed to succeed in a global and increasingly competitive workplace, suggests a survey of corporate human-resource officials.

It found, for instance, that 75 percent of the 431 company human-resource officials polled said K-12 schools are responsible for teaching basic skills such as writing, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and work ethic, suggesting that they have fallen short of that responsibility.

“Are They Really Ready to Work” is posted by The Conference Board.

“The future of the U.S. workforce is here—and it is woefully ill-prepared for the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s workplace,” write the authors of the survey, “Are They Really Ready to Work?”

The survey was a collaborative effort by the Conference Board, a business membership and research group based in New York City; the nonprofit groups Corporate Voices for Working Families, based in Washington, and the Tucson, Ariz.-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills; and the Society for Human Resource Management, a 205,000-member organization based in Alexandria, Va.

The survey, released this month, comes as the United States faces increased competition for jobs from college graduates in other countries, according to experts such as Ken Kay, the president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a group which advocates the teaching of workplace skills by K-12 schools.

“People’s job descriptions are shifting under their feet,” he said. “Their jobs are being redefined, offshored, and computerized. That creates the need for critical-thinking and innovation skills.”

But some public education advocates argued that schools are doing a better job preparing students for the real world than in years past.

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K-12 education has become more academically rigorous and prepares students for college better than it ever has, suggested Anne L. Bryant, the executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based National School Boards Association. She pointed out that 1.1 million students took an Advanced Placement course in 2003, compared with 177,406 in 1983.

“We have a whole lot of schools doing a superb job of educating children far beyond what they were educated to do 10 to 12 years ago,” she said. “Just ask parents trying to help their kids with 8th grade math.”

Still, the majority of the survey respondents see a different picture.

Almost 70 percent of the human-resource officials surveyed said that high school graduates fell short in critical-thinking skills, and 81 percent said they were deficient in written communications.

Four-year college graduates were also found lacking. More than a quarter of those surveyed said that their new employees who were recent college graduates had poor writing skills.

In response, a good number of the company officials say they will change their hiring practices.

Almost a third said in the survey that they will reduce their hiring of employees with just a high school diploma, and 42 percent said they will hire more people with advanced degrees.

A version of this article appeared in the October 25, 2006 edition of Education Week as Work Skills of Graduates Seen Lacking


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