Schools' failure to give students job skills cited


WASHINGTON -- To get a job in today's economy, simply being able to read, write and do arithmetic is not nearly enough, according to a Labor Department report released yesterday.

Even entry-level blue-collar workers must be able to read diagrams and manuals; write memos justifying expenses or interpreting graphs; maintain numerical records and interpret statistics; reason how such things fit together; and work with other people in applying insights to solving daily problems in the business world, the report says.

Schools fail to give half of their students such skills, which they need to get and hold jobs in today's high-technology economy, it says.

The study is the result of a one-year survey of employers, managers and workers conducted by the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. It sought to identify skills students and workers need to master job challenges in an increasingly competitive global economy.

"Fifty percent of our children are unprepared to enter the world of work, and that is a terrible, tragic fact," said William E. Brock, a former labor secretary who headed the commission, made up of leaders from business, education and unions.

Many of the report's conclusions echo other studies issued since 1983, when "A Nation at Risk" indicted the U.S. education system for what it called multiple failures.

The latest report emphasizes training in listening and speaking to supplement traditional lessons. It also stresses that students must be motivated to reason critically and to develop personal responsibility.

Building on such basics, the study says, a successful job candidate also must have mastered "the five competencies": the ability to organize resources; the ability to work with others; the ability to acquire, evaluate and use information; the ability to understand complex systems; and the ability to work with a variety of technologies, including computers.

Asked what is new in the report, Labor Secretary Lynn Martin said, "What is new is business and labor and educators working together" to make the study newly relevant in the classroom and in on-the-job worker training.

Mathematics training, for example, could focus on how food-service workers might use inventory-control techniques to save enough money to finance restaurant expansion, the report says.

Another lesson might illustrate how an employee with a seemingly routine job, such as a hospital admissions clerk, must monitor a variety of computerized financial and health records.

The report, intended to help flesh out President Bush's commitment to become "the education president," does not propose new federal spending or nationwide standards. Instead, seeks to define skills and challenges that schools, corporations and unions can work on together, Ms. Martin said.

The American Federation of Teachers gave a mixed review, welcoming its emphasis on practical skills but calling the Bush program "short" on strategy and money.

The study and related information may be obtained by calling (800) 788-SKILL.

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