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Emerging workforce concerns: Do they have the basic skills that we need? October 5, 2006

Posted by Tom in Education, Human Resources, Research, Workforce.

The Conference Board doesn’t think so. They just issued a harsh report outlining the lack of workplace readiness in the emerging workforce (generally understood to be graduates of secondary and postsecondary education who have entered the workforce and newly arrived immigrant workers) based upon a survey of 431 human resource professionals. Here’s a taste:

Business leaders report that while the three “R’s” are still fundamental to every employee’s ability to do the job, applied skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, and communication are essential for success at work. In fact, at all educational levels, these applied skills trump basic knowledge skills such as reading and mathematics in importance in the view of employers. In order to succeed in the workplace of the 21st Century, high school and college graduates need to master basic academic skills as well as a complement of applied skills. The survey also found though that too many new entrants to the workforce are not adequately prepared in these important skills.

Nearly three-quarters of survey participants (70 percent) cite deficiencies among incoming high school graduates in “applied” skills, such as professionalism and work ethic, defined as “demonstrating personal accountability, effective work habits, e.g. punctuality, working productively with others, time and workload management.”

More than 40 percent of surveyed employers say incoming high school graduates hired are deficiently 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 were needed for successful job performance.

And why is this important?

“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 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. workforce. This ultimately makes the U.S. economy more vulnerable in the global marketplace.”

Let me carry this point a step further, recycling a chart that I used in a very early post on this blog:

This chart came out of a report ( “Future Workforce Skills” ) that the Manpower Corporation’s Sydney, Australia office. Recognizing their place in the global economy, the analysts used historical studies of the American labor market to predict skills needed for Australian employers to succeed today. The chart itself benchmarks back to 1969 and tracks the growth (or contraction) of occupations requiring different types of skills.

Long story short: If you don’t have some expert skills or complex communications abilities, you’re probably not going to be a winner in today’s economy. Routine labor, unskilled labor…there’s just no future there.

Now, run the results of the Conference Board survey through the lens of the Manpower chart. What do we do about this? And how can we fix the problems we see – at a systemic level?



1. The Intangible Economy - October 16, 2006

Workforce skills

While a renewed emphasis on career-ready skills is welcome news (see earlier posting), it is necessary to look at the broad range of skills needed to cope with the I-Cubed (Information-Innovation-Intangibles) Economy. Recently, the Conference Board jus…

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