More students than ever are looking to graduate from a four-year university and go on to graduate school. This makes the job market fiercely competitive and thus, many graduates have been struggling to find work. This competition would make many think that once someone had acquired a job, they would never let it go, right?
Wrong. Only graduates aren’t quitting, they are being let go. Despite the high level of knowledge, employers have found that their new employees are…lacking, and lacking in some very crucial areas, namely interpersonal skills. Graduates are smart, but unable to deal with people. Instead of being prepared to take a career in marketing management or even a mid-level manager, graduates are needing extensive on the job training and being hired into entry level positions. However, as some things cannot necessarily be taught or trained, some graduates will have a very steep learning curve before they will be ready to take a career.
The modern American workforce faces a serious problem — many of today’s high school graduates don’t have the basic skills they need to succeed at entry-level positions in the workforce, or, indeed, in higher education. Young adults leaving high school and entering the workforce are doing so without basic math skills, such as the ability to perform simple mental arithmetic and the ability to read. The problems extend beyond the academic level, as well. Employers also complain that young hires lack many “applied skills,” such as the ability to work well in teams, communicate effectively, and uphold a professional demeanor. Searching for solutions, public education, employers, and students all seek ways to fill the void of high-school diplomas.
The most glaring deficit found among today’s high school graduates is a lack of English literacy. A 2006 survey conducted by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management confirms that 72% of high school graduates lack the ability to write in English, using correct grammar and spelling. These new hires can’t write emails, memos, technical reports or letters for work purposes. Among graduates of two-year college programs, 47% lack basic English literacy.
Quality of Preparation
Even more unsettling, new high-school graduates lack training in the applied skills that employers value even more than English literacy and math. These skills include a sense of work ethic, professionalism, camaraderie and teamwork, and strong communication skills. Employers are also finding few high school graduates with foreign language skills, knowledge of global markets and foreign cultures, creativity, or innovation. Employers these days are even showing more concern for new hires’ personal habits, as they look for potential employees who can make “appropriate choices concerning health and wellness, such as nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, work-life effectiveness.” As a result, high-school graduates are increasingly unemployable, and more employers show preference for two and four-year college graduates. In turn, more high-school graduates seek higher education.
While students from disadvantaged areas remain most likely to leave high school without the basic education they need to succeed in life, even students from “better” schools can find themselves at a loss after graduation. Darryl Robinson, a freshman at Georgetown University, tells the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the problems he’s having keeping up with his classmates, because his public charter high school education didn’t include critical thinking or independent research skills. Robinson blames his disillusioned elementary educators, claiming that one teacher “told my classmates and me that she would get paid whether or not we learned anything,” and that teachers at his charter high school struggled just to bring students up to speed, much less prepare them for higher education.
So, what are public schools doing about the skills crisis? The Wisconsin school system has implemented skills assessment tests that students must pass before they can graduate from high school. Testing will ensure that students meet state standards for science, math, writing, reading, and social studies before they’re allowed to leave school and enter the workforce as full-time hires. Fundamentally, the assessments are an attempt to substantiate high-school diplomas in the state.
Before diplomas regain their old lustre, higher education will continue to experience increased demand, from both employers and students crowding through the doors. Many adults already in the workforce require additional skills training to do entry-level work, and adult education programs struggle to keep up with demand. Either diplomas will need to increase their reputation, or the American workforce will continue to play catch-up.
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