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Employers Looking Beyond Good Grades, Survey Finds

February 21, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Gone are the days when a 4.0 grade point average and a college degree guaranteed a job to America’s graduates. A survey released Tuesday by the Education Department indicates that employers look more for a good attitude and strong work ethic in potential hires.

Of 11 criteria considered important to hiring decisions, attitude and communication skills topped the list. Years of completed schooling ranked seventh and grades ninth. Teacher recommendations were least important to the 3,173 plant managers surveyed.

``Employers do not value the schools as an evaluator of a graduate’s skills,″ said Robert Zemsky, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania and co-director of the survey project.

Academics are so busy talking to each other about education for education’s sake that businesses perceive schools as disconnected from the workplace and uninterested in employers’ needs, Zemsky said.

Bob Thies, who hires upper-level engineers and supervisors for the 4,000-employee ITT Automotive in Rochester, N.Y., agreed that teachers’ opinions of a job candidate can differ radically from an employer’s opinion. But he still screens first for good grades and a good school. After that, bad attitude can be a deal-breaker, he said.

``It used to be kind of an automatic that if you went to a decent school and got a decent degree, you got a decent job. But it’s not like that anymore,″ said Thies. ``Once they get by those hurdles, then you really start discriminating about the people skills, the communications skills.″

The employers also said they consider one-fifth of American workers to be not fully proficient in their jobs. Only one in five employers said they consider more than 95 percent of their employees fully proficient.

Policy analysts say the survey documents a wide gap between academia and the workplace, which hurts U.S. competitiveness and wastes education funds.

``The whole argument for federal student loans and Pell grants is that (the student) will get a job in the end,″ said Education Department researcher Cliff Edleman. ``But if all employers care about is whether you’re charming, let’s pull everyone out of college and send them to propriety school.″

Other analysts said colleges and universities must mold good workers, not just good thinkers.

``You need to do something more than just do your time in school _ you need to know how to communicate,″ said Lisa M. Lynch, a Tufts University professor who designed the study. With rapidly changing technology, workers must be adaptable and teachable, she said.

Each of Eastman Kodak Co.’s 96,000 employees worldwide spends at least 40 hours per year in training classes to keep up with technology, said Kodak spokesman David Beigie. The company relies on colleges and universities for much of that training, he said.

That reliance, researchers say, underscores the need for academics and businesses to develop a shared set of performance measures and standards.

``Schools would be better off if they viewed the employer community as a set of customers,″ said Zemsky.

As such, businesses need to be involved in education strategies, said Nevzer Stacey, who directs School-to-Work, a joint project of the Education and Labor departments.

``Both sides have to understand and agree upon what to expect from the product,″ she said.

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