Employers want, but can't find, strong verbal skills

From George C. Leef, vice president for research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in Raleigh:

On Oct. 2, 2006, the Conference Board, an organization of American businesses, released a survey, “Are They Really Ready for Work?” Based on responses from 431 employers, it hardly gives a ringing endorsement of our education system.

Only 10 percent of employers said they find graduates of two-year colleges “excellent” in overall preparation for work, and only 24 percent rated graduates of four-year colleges “excellent.”

The greatest area of deficiency they identified was in communications. About half of new workforce entrants with two-year degrees and more than one-fourth with four-year degrees are rated “deficient” in their ability to write and understand written material.

That finding is not surprising, given the results of last year's National Assessment of Adult Literacy, which concluded that literacy among college graduates was shockingly low – and falling.

What makes that so disturbing is that business leaders say communication skills are the most important for new workers. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that those skills were “very important.” (Understanding math was “very important” to 64 percent and science “very important” to 33 percent. )

Those results underscore an important point. Most jobs don't call for deep academic background. Employers, for the most part, want people who are readily trainable and can work with others. Good language skills are of the greatest importance in that respect. …

How can it be that people who have gone through K-12 and then at least two years of college could be “deficient” in the use of English? … The problem starts early in our educational system. Reading and writing have been degraded in many schools. Try asking a teacher how much time is spent diagramming sentences and you're apt to get a blank stare. Tests don't often include essays, because grading them takes much more time .… It's little wonder many incoming college students have an aversion to the sort of work that builds reading and writing skills.