Are young people today prepared to work?

Corporate Voices for Working Families’ research – including the comprehensive studies and reports, Are They Really Ready to Work? and The Ill- Prepared US Workforce, demonstrate that employers find the majority of young people to be unprepared to succeed at work and in the changing and more demanding workplace of the 21st century. To solidify the known employer data, the survey was distributed to measure what the general public thinks about work readiness of young people.

With the generous support of Workplace Options, a partner company of Corporate Voices, Public Policy Polling surveyed the American public in August 2010 to gauge its perceptions of how prepared young people and new entrants to the workforce are, as well as how likely they are to succeed.

Overall, the general public agrees with employers: Young people lack both the basic and applied skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

The results highlighted the need for a more cooperative effort between businesses, education, community leaders, and policy makers to ensure success for young people, to strengthen the incoming workforce and to improve the overall economy and future economic competitiveness of our country. The results also add emphasis and a sense of urgency to Corporate Voices’ workforce readiness initiatives and engagements – including our work with the Ready by 21 National Partnership and the complementary New Options Initiative, a program of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Ready by 21 is a strategy that helps communities to improve the odds that all youth will be ready for work, college and life. New Options Is a multiyear effort to find alternative employment pathways for an estimated 4 million “disconnected” young adults in America who have found themselves isolated from meaningful education and career opportunities.

The Public Policy Polling survey says:

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed feel that more than a quarter of young people do not have the skills they need to be prepared to work, and 21 percent feel that more than half of the nation’s young people do not possess the skill sets to be work-ready.

Other highlights from the survey are as follows:

The readiness level of future workers is viewed as worse for those with a high school degree compared to those with postsecondary credentials. The majority of the general public (68 percent) feels that young people with a high school diploma are not prepared to work; whereas 35 percent of the general public expresses the same concern for young people with college degree. Employers agree that preparedness increases with educational attainment, as found in Are They Really Ready to Work? (2006).

• The attainment of postsecondary credentials is important for youth to be ready for work.

When asked which entity bears the responsibility for getting youth ready for work, more than 70 percent of the general public feels that education (either K-12 or higher education) plays a key role. In more detail, 78 percent of the general public thinks the higher education system bears responsibility for ensuring that youth today have the skills they need to be prepared for work; whereas 71 percent of them think the K-12 education system bears responsibility. Only 3 percent of the general public believes that employers have the most responsibility to prepare young people for work. The public expects a future employee to be work-ready through the support of the education system, community and family. In Are They Ready to Work? 75.6 percent of employer respondents expressed that K-12 schools have the primary responsibility for providing the necessary basic knowledge and applied skills for their new entrants; whereas 19 percent of them thought that the hiring employer bared the most responsibility. Employers, too, indicated that workforce readiness came from education.

The main skill young people lack when entering the workforce, according to the general public, is professionalism. Those surveyed said that young people are lacking in the following skills:

  • Professionalism (37 percent);
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills (19 percent);
  • Basic skills (writing, reading, and math) (16 percent);
  • Communication skills (written and oral) (15 percent); and
  • Creativity (5 percent)

Our reports show that employers agree with the American public: having a proficiency in “applied skills” is critical for young people entering the workforce today. In fact, employers said that applied skills would become even more important over time than basic skills.

According to the Public Policy survey, the general public shares the concerns of business leaders about the readiness and skills of young people and new entrants into the workforce.

Corporate Voices believes that workforce readiness today is a critical component of economic competitiveness and success tomorrow. Through its Ready by 21, New Options Initiative and Earn and Learn programs, Corporate Voices is working with businesses and local communities to engage youth and prepare them for college, work, and life. It is also mapping model public-private partnerships between the private sector and business that enable young people to gain an education while also earning a paycheck. It is these partnerships and synergies between businesses and communities, in additional to national educational reform, which will ensure our youth are ready for tomorrow’s workforce and global economy.

Workplace Options provides Corporate Voices with the availability to survey the general public on a monthly basis. Corporate Voices thanks Workplace Options for the generous in-kind donation which continues to enhance our work and research.

Ready by 21 and the Ready by 21 Logo are registered trademarks of the Forum for Youth Investment.

By Keiko Iioka. Keiko is an intern with Corporate Voices for Working Families