This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

February 14, 2007

Graduates Lack Life Skills

One of the refrains we often hear from employers is that graduates lack skills, particularly life skills. They tell us that many young people graduate from high school or college without knowing the basics: literacy, numeracy, what it takes to hold a job, or balance a checkbook.

In a study by the Pew Charitable Trust, 50 percent of college graduates were found to be lacking in simple life skills. These grads were tested for three types of literacy skills: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents, and having math skills needed for balancing checkbooks or figuring restaurant tips.

A new study just released by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a behavioral and social science research organization, echoes Pew’s findings. More than half of the students nearing graduation at four-year colleges lacked the literacy skills to handle complex tasks, such as analyzing arguments in newspaper editorials or understanding credit card offers.

Students nearing graduation at two-year colleges scored even worse. Seventy-five percent of these students also did not have the basic skills. This AIR study was the first to target students closing in on graduation. The researchers utilized the same test as the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the United States government's examination of English literacy among adults. Results of that government study, released in December, were similarly disappointing. The results reflected about five percent of U.S. adults are not literate.

All of these studies raise serious questions about college curricula as well as the skills students possess when they arrive at college. We are not surprised. A major midwestern bank reported some years ago that they were testing all of their candidates for basic literacy and numeracy. Sixty-eight percent of their applicants failed this basic assessment. (Imagine the time saved from interviewing unqualified applicants.) All of these outcomes do not bode well for the United States’ ability to compete in global markets.

Looking onto the future, we see more employers engaging college instructors and training professionals to fill in the gap---to up-skill their fresh grads with just-in-time support so that the employers will not be adversely affected.

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