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Not ready for work

This is a snippet of condolence letter Lindsay Lohan wrote to the Altman family from her Blackberry after his recent death from cancer. Is this the result of boozy partying or our education system?

“I am lucky enough to of been able to work with Robert Altman amongst the other greats on a film that I can genuinely say created a turning point in my career…He was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I’ve had in several years… He left us with a legend that all of us have the ability to do…Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourselves’ (12st book) – everytime there’s a triumph in the world a million souls hafta be trampled on. – altman Its true. But treasure each triumph as they come…Be adequite. Lindsay Lohan.”

According to The Independent, Lohan fans argued that the letter really wasn’t incoherent – it just reflected the average teenage e-mail exchange.

Maybe that is the problem. A report aired on Lou Dobbs on Tuesday that featured the not-so-surprising results from a survey of over 400 mid-sized companies by the Parnership for 21st Century Skills. It found that American grads are woefully unprepared for the working world and are sorely lacking in basic skills.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new kids in the office lack basic academic skills and also life skills, such as teamwork and leadership.

LINDA BARRINGTON, THE CORPORATE BOARD: It was more negative than we expected. Even among college graduates, over a quarter of employers said they saw deficiency in written communications with new entrants who had a four-year college degree.

PILGRIM: This was no academic exercise. This survey was conducted by real-life employers about real-life employees in the workforce today. Four hundred employers found many of their first- time workers lacked 20 of the essential skills to job success.

…DONNA KLEIN, CORPORATE VOICES: If we want to maintain our economic superiority in terms of the private sector, we’re dependent on a very well-skilled entry level workforce. And this study really indicates that we’re really not where we need to be for the future.

From the report synopsis.

* Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of incoming high school graduates are viewed as deficient in basic English writing skills, including grammar and spelling. And, when asked about readiness with regard to applied skills related to the workplace, the greatest deficiency was reported in written communications (memos, letters, complex technical reports), and in professionalism and work ethic.

* Eighty-one percent of survey participants say their high school graduate hires were deficient in written communications.

* Poor writing skills also continued to be a problem among both two-year and four-year college graduates. Nearly half of all survey participants (47 percent) report that two-year college graduates are deficient in this skill.

* Over half (58 percent) of responding employers say critical thinking and problem solving skills are “very important” for incoming high school graduates’ successful job performance, yet nearly three-quarters of respondents (70 percent) rated recently hired high school graduates as deficient in critical thinking.

Sorry to say but I’ve personally talked to quite a few business folks who freely admit frustration with the calibre of graduates these days; it’s not that stellar candidates with talent, motivation and skills don’t exist, it’s that there are so many more to weed through who:
* don’t know how to write a cover letter (particularly important if you’re just graduating and don’t have a lot of experience to show a potential employer)
* have no idea of how to dress appropriately for an interview
* can’t conduct themselves professionally in the interview
* once hired, seem to have little initiative and self-motivation (only do what their told, don’t extend themselves to learn or take on projects to obtain additional skills)
* cannot figure out how to successfully integrate into the working world and office politics (both the positive and the negative aspects of it), even in fairly casual environments.

Deficiency in work ethic and professionalism was extremely high in the findings (70.3%).

“We have experienced horrendous turnover rates among high school graduates we hire,” says Chyrel Fortner of Pan Pacific Products. “We hire these young people, and then they don’t come to work. And they don’t see a problem with being absent. And when they do come, what they seem to care about is when they can leave work.” Within one month, half of those hired and terminated were recent high school graduates for whom this was their first full-time job. Yet, at the same time, a sense of entitlement prevails. “Kids want to get that top job right away, the nice air-conditioned office with the computer-never mind that the way managers achieved those jobs was by starting at the bottom and working their way up.”

Jim Kammerer, Director of Human Resources at Great River Health Systems, agrees. “Young people come to apply for a job in cut-off jeans. They have no understanding of how to act in an interview, no presentation skills, and a total lack of understanding of the impression they’re making on the employer. Instead, the attitude is ‘Hey, take me for what I am. I am an individual,’ and that’s what matters most.”

A few months ago I received an email from a communications director for a member of Congress that was full of IM-speak, e.g. “Don’t U know what 2 do about this?”  kind of BS. I’m sorry, but that’s kind of embarrassing. I realize that email is a more informal method of communicating, but if you’re representing a public official in your signature, you need to pump up the professionalism a notch so that it doesn’t look like a chat session.  I guess I’ve reached old fogey stage at 43.

The sad truth is that too many in this IM/texting Generation can’t tell the difference. Blog entries, text messages and IMs are not the same as a business letter, particularly if you’re looking for a job. Too many young people simply don’t understand why they shouldn’t communicate the same way in every venue — and no one bothers to teach them. That said, no one had to tell me back in the day that I couldn’t wear flip flops to an interview, and when you only had typewriters with no correction feature, if you screwed up the cover letter, you had to type that crapper all over again. This gen is going to have to be hand-held into their first jobs and employers are coming to this realization and are aghast with horror.

I have served on many search committees over the years, and I’ve seen all kinds of poorly written resumes. Not that long ago I actually received a resume from a candidate who thought an adequate cover letter was a post-it note that said “if you’re interested, call me.” I’m not a hard-ass in comparison to some I know in the field; a good number of the types of searches I participate in involve IT types. I won’t dismiss a resume outright if there are a few typos or if there is an ineloquent letter.

More often than not, the best candidates in the end, however, are the ones who possess both stellar tech skills and a well-rounded communication skill set — and it shows in the interview.  Too often, though, I’m sure employers are finding they have to settle — and spend a lot of time on remedial training or working around the severe work skill deficits mentioned above.

* the report: Are They Really Ready to Work?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding