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Business Not Satisfied With Education Skills of New Workers

July 15, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sixty-four percent of major U.S. companies are not happy with the reading, writing and reasoning abilities of high school graduates entering the work force, a poll of business executives said.

The National Alliance of Business survey found that 72 percent of executives polled also thought new employees’ math skills had worsened in the last five years. Sixty-five percent said reading skills decreased over the same period.

Alliance President William Kolberg said the poll results should worry everyone - parents, students, educators and employers.

″We are on a collision course with the reality that America is developing a second-class work force whose best feature in the future compared with other nations will be low pay,″ Kolberg said last week in an interview to discuss the survey results. ″Low skill means low pay.″

Kolberg said new attitudes and approaches were needed to prepare Americans for work who do not attend college.

″We have abandoned the millions of kids who don’t plan to attend college,″ he said. ″Somewhere along the way, we lost respect for the skills we now so desperately need in our factories and on the front lines of our service industries.″

Kolberg said about 82 million U.S. jobs don’t require a college degree, and filling those jobs may become impossible unless the educational system is changed.

″The entire school enterprise needs to be restructured, rethought and taken much more seriously,″ he said, pointing to the national education goals established by President Bush and the nation’s governors.

Kolberg was an assistant secretary of Labor and administrator of the Employment and Training Administration from 1973-77.

The poll, described by the alliance as the first to survey officers either directly or indirectly responsible for the recruitment of workers at the 1,200 largest U.S. corporations, said only 36 percent of the officers were satisfied with the competency of new employees entering the work force.

Kolberg defined competency as being able to read beyond the seventh grade level and compute math at higher than a fifth grade level.

The survey indicated companies - many of which have more challenging blue collar and secretarial work than in the past - have to interview seven to eight applicants on average to find just one acceptable employee.

Personnel officers also said many of those who are hired require too much training to become effective in their jobs. Forty-eight percent were satisfied with the ability of new hires to be retrained. Only 16 percent were satisfied with the educational training of new employees.

Kolberg said the survey documents much of the anecdotal evidence discussed over the last few years.

″Most American companies, particularly smaller companies, have not been able to adopt new forms of work organization because they can’t afford to spend money upgrading worker skills,″ Kolberg said. ″Our competitors in Europe and Asia have increased productivity by using these new methods of work. Our only response to this competitive situation has been to lower wages.″

The business alliance predicts that by the year 2000, an estimated 5 million to 15 million manufacturing jobs will require skills other than those being used today and that an equal number of service jobs will be obsolete.

Kolberg said parents must make sure their children attend school and are prepared physically and emotionally to learn. Parents and teachers must raise their expectations of student achievement.

The weekly wages of high school graduates dropped from $387.24 in 1969 to $335.20 in 1989. The alliance attributes the 12 percent drop to a loss in productivity by so-called frontline workers. It compares with a wage gain of about 8 percent for a college graduate.

The research was conducted in late April by North Coast Behavioral Research Group of Cleveland, involving 500 of the largest manufacturing firms in America, the largest 500 service firms and the largest 200 privately owned companies. The poll had a margin of error of 6 percentage points.

The NAB was founded in 1968 under the direction of President Lyndon Johnson and Henry Ford II to link businesses in a partnership with education, labor, government and community-based groups to help build a quality work force for the future.

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