Skills Deficit

The Indiana Business Council, a collaboration between Inside INdiana Business and Walker Information Inc., regularly surveys more than 4,000 Indiana businesspeople on a variety of topics. Last Friday the council released results from its 2012 Skills Survey, which assessed perceptions of how the skills of recent college graduates match the skills needed in the workplace. The results were alarming.

Only 39 percent of survey respondents believe recent college graduates have the ability to apply the skills they learn in the classroom. Only 40 percent report that recent college graduates meet their expectations, and only 21 percent rate the readiness of recent college graduates as very good or excellent. Considering the speed and complexity at which business operates today, will we be able to meet the demands of customers and competition in the future, if we are reliant on a skills-deficient work force?

Specific communications skills fared no better on the survey. Both recent college graduates and the current workforce received low scores in critical thinking/problem-solving, oral communication, written communication and reading comprehension. We have no choice but to improve in these areas; the ability to communicate effectively is endemic to business success. And I can’t help but wonder if the burgeoning of social media channels correlates with the inability to communicate well.

Particularly I am concerned about low reading comprehension skills. All businesses are being crushed under mountains of new regulations. If our employees cannot read and fully comprehend future regulations, how can we possibly comply?

Then there is the lack of critical thinking and problem-solving ability. Unfortunately our current educational system does not seem structured to teach students how to think and solve problems. Instead schools are pressured to drill rote facts and existing processes. The result is that we succeed in teaching “what,” but we fail in teaching “how.”

When I was raising my children, I continually told them that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who identify problems, and those who solve problems. To make this world a better place, we need more problem-solvers. My hope is that business and education will unite to address and solve the issues revealed in this recent survey.

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