Corporate Voices for Working Families, in conjunction with three other organizations, released a comprehensive study of the business community in 2006 that asked the question: “Are They Really Ready to Work?

The answer, quite simply, was no. Employers confirmed that new entrants into the workforce lacked both the basic and applied skills needed to succeed in the 21st century workplace.

The results of that study still resonate with educators and business leaders. As evidence: Walter E. Williams, a nationally syndicated writer and a professor of economics at George Mason University, uses one key survey result — “that only 24 percent of employers thought graduates at four-year colleges were excellently prepared” — as a foundation for a recent column that is gaining national attention.

Here’s from his column, as printed in the online edition of the Santa Rosa Press Gazette:

When parents plunk down $20, $30, $40 and maybe $50 thousand this fall for a year’s worth of college room, board and tuition, it might be relevant to ask: What will their children learn in return? The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) ask that question in their recently released publication, “What Will They Learn: A Report on the General Education Requirements at 100 of the Nation’s Leading Colleges and Universities.”

ACTA conducted research to see whether 100 major institutions require seven key subjects: English composition, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, economics, mathematics and science. What ACTA found was found was alarming, reporting that “Even as our students need broad-based skills and knowledge to succeed in the global marketplace, our colleges and universities are failing to deliver. Topics like U.S. government or history, literature, mathematics, and economics have become mere options on far too many campuses. Not surprisingly, students are graduating with great gaps in their knowledge — and employers are
noticing.”

As students return to classes this fall, workforce readiness remains an important and challenging issue. And it is an issue that links the ability of young people to succeed — and of our businesses to remain competitive in today’s global economy.

The Corporate Voices’ Web site has additional information, research studies and policy recommendations on workforce readiness issues.