Survey: Most Young People Entering the U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential for Success

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by Diverse staff reports

A new survey of leaders from a consortium of business research organizations finds the incoming generation sorely lacking in basic work place skills, according to a report released Monday.

The report is based on a survey of 431 human resource officials that was conducted in April and May by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the Society for Human Resource Management.

“The future work force is here, and it is ill-prepared,” says the report.

The findings reflect employers’ growing frustration over the lack of basic knowledge and skills among young workers.

“It is clear from the report that greater communication and collaboration between the business sector and educators is critical to ensure that young people are prepared to enter the workplace of the 21st century,” says Richard E. Cavanagh, president and CEO of The Conference Board. “Less than intense preparation in critical skills can lead to unsuccessful futures for America’s youth, as well as a less competitive U.S. work force. This ultimately makes the U.S. economy more vulnerable in the global marketplace.

More than 40 percent of surveyed employers say incoming high-school graduates are inadequately prepared for the entry-level jobs they fill. The report finds that recent high school graduates lack the basic skills in reading comprehension, writing and math, which many respondents say are vital for successful job performance.

The survey also asked employers how their hiring practices would change in light of the projections. Nearly half of the respondents said the percentage of two-year college graduates they hire would increase, whereas almost 60 percent said their hires of four-year college graduates would increase. Forty-two percent said their hires of postgraduates would increase over the next five years.

“This study should serve as an alert to educators, policy makers and those concerned with U.S. economic competitiveness that we may be facing a skills shortage,” says Susan R. Meisinger, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. 

The findings show an especially large gap in writing skills. Nearly half of all survey participants (47 percent) report that two-year college graduates are deficient in this area.

“The basics plus an array of applied and social skills — from critical thinking to collaboration to communications — defines workforce readiness in the 21st century,” says Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. 

Donna Klein, president and CEO of Corporate Voices for Working Families, says business has a stake in the problem and needs to play a role in helping to solve it.

“Many business leaders across the country are already actively engaged in efforts to address the skills gap through a variety of initiatives … through partnerships with schools, or community based organizations that run mentoring programs, providing internships, job shadowing programs and summer job opportunities,” she says.

The report did note an adequate level of workforce readiness in three areas: diversity, information technology and teamwork.

Overall, survey participants rated two- and four-year college grads as adequately prepared for entry-level jobs, but not excellently prepared. Two-year college grads were rated as deficiently prepared by 11 percent of the respondents, and well prepared by 10 percent. Four-year grads earned ratings of 9 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

“One message of this study … is that new entrants to the U.S. work force are not demonstrating levels of excellence necessary to compete successfully in the face of rising global labor market challenges,” says Meisinger. “The importance of learning to communicate in writing and orally is paramount. Communication is a critical skill in the workplace, and one that many new entrants lack.”

Diverse staff reports

 

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