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ARE THEY REALLY READY TO WORK?: Survey of Employers Reveals Dissatisfaction with Skills of Recent High School Graduates

“This study should serve as an alert to educators, policymakers, and those concerned with U.S. economic competitiveness that we may be facing a skills shortage,” said Susan R. Meisinger

Over 40 percent of recent high school graduates are not sufficiently prepared for jobs after high school. So says Are They Really Ready to Work?: Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce, a new report based on a detailed survey of 431 human resource professionals. The report, which also surveyed employers’ opinions of college graduates, reveals frustration among employers at the lack of preparedness of all new workforce entrants—both high school graduates and two- and four-year college graduates.

“This study should serve as an alert to educators, policymakers, and those concerned with U.S. economic competitiveness that we may be facing a skills shortage,” said Susan R. Meisinger, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills joined SHRM in conducting the survey.

As shown in the chart below, 42 percent of employer respondents said that new entrants with a high school diploma were “deficient” in their overall preparation for the entry-level jobs that they typically fill. Another 46 percent said that recent high school graduates were “adequate,” but almost no one (0.2 percent) rated their overall preparation as “excellent.” (Click on the chart for a larger image).

are they really ready


But do college graduates fare any better in their employers’ eyes? According to the report, incoming two-year and four-year college graduates are much better prepared for the entry-level jobs they seek to fill, but deficiencies still exist—10.8 percent of two-year college graduates were rated as deficient, compared to 8.7 percent of four-year college graduates. Meanwhile, just over 70 percent of two-year graduates and 64.5 percent of four-year college graduates were rated as “adequately” prepared for the jobs they fill. However, relatively small percentages of college-educated students meet standards of excellence, as only 10.3 percent and 23.9 percent of two-year and four-year college-educated entrants were deemed “excellent” in terms of their overall preparation.

In addition to overall performance, the survey also queried employers about workforce entrants’ “basic skills,” such as reading, writing, and mathematics. Again, employers gave low marks. As shown in the chart below, employers surveyed were especially discouraged with the writing skills of recent high school graduates, saying that 72 percent of incoming high school graduates were “deficient” in basic English writing skills, including grammar and spelling. This finding is especially disturbing considering that approximately half (49.4 percent) of all employers surveyed said that basic writing skills are “very important” in the jobs they are trying to fill.

Recent High School Graduates’ Performance in the Three Rs

Subject Area

Rating by Employers




“Very important” for successful job performance

Writing in English










Reading Comprehension






Similar to their high school counterparts, high percentages of college graduates were deemed deficient in writing skills by the employers who hired them. In fact, 46.4 percent of employer respondents say that workforce entrants with a two-year college education are deficient and 26.2 percent say the same thing about four-year college graduates. Again, writing skills were deemed very important by employers; 64.9 percent ranked those skills as “very important” to the jobs that two-year college graduates hold and 89.7 percent saying that it is very important for four-year college graduates to be skilled in writing.

When asked about recent high school graduates’ “applied skills,” in written communication, work ethic, and critical thinking, employers were even less generous with their marks. In written communications (writing memos, letters, complex reports), 81 percent of employers said that recent graduates were deficient. Only 19 percent said they were adequate. In the survey, employers expressed frustration with frequent spelling errors, improper use of grammar, and the misuse of words in written reports, PowerPoint presentations, and email messages. Similarly, 69.6 percent of employers said that recent high school graduates were deficient in critical thinking and problem solving skills and that 70.3 percent were deficient in work ethic (personal accountability, punctuality, etc.).

“To succeed in today’s workplace, young people need more than basic reading and math skills,” J. Willard Marriott, Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International Inc., said in the report. “They need substantial content knowledge and information technology skills; advanced thinking skills, flexibility to adapt to change; and interpersonal skills to succeed in multi-cultural, cross-functional teams.”

According to the report, very few recent high school graduates fit Marriott’s description. As a result, many employers say that they will look to better educated individuals when filling job openings in the future. In fact, 28 percent say that their companies will reduce hiring new entrants with only a high school diploma over the next five years while nearly 50 percent say the percentages of two-year college graduates they hire will increase, and 60 percent say that they will increase their hires of four-year college graduates.

In order to better prepare recent graduates of all types for work, the report recommends that all stakeholders (businesses, educators, and community members) consider methods of enhancing important workplace skills. It suggests internships, summer jobs, work-study programs, job shadowing, and other educational approaches that “include real-world experiences or community involvement, provide opportunities for students to acquire basic knowledge and skills, while cultivating applied skills.” It also recommends that employers and academics work together to make instruction meaningful and internships relevant to workplace needs.

The report includes a Report Card on Workforce Readiness that presents the “very important” skills as defined by a majority of employer respondents for each of the educational levels considered in the study. The report card contains two lists, one for excellence and one for deficiency. To be placed on either list, a specific “very important” skill must have at least 20 percent of employer responses reporting new entrants’ readiness in that skill as excellent or deficient. According to the report, the top three basic skills that employers value are reading comprehension, English language speaking skills, and writing skills. The top three applied skills that they value the most are professionalism/work ethic, teamwork/collaboration, and oral communications.

The complete report is available at


U.S. Chamber of Commerce Survey Finds Overwhelming Support for Extending NCLB into High Schools


The requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) should be extended to high schools. So say over 85 percent of the respondents to a recent survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The survey reflects the opinions of 571 business organizations that responded to the survey.

When asked for their opinion about the rigor of the curriculum in U.S. schools, less than one third said that the current curriculum offered in schools is rigorous, and over half (53 percent) said that the current curriculum in K–12 classrooms does not adequately prepare students for college and the workforce.

When discussing what could be done to improve schools, 35 percent of respondents believe that only additional reforms are needed to improve the educational system, and 46 percent say that additional reforms and funding are necessary. However, over 60 percent say that currently available money is not well spent to improve low-performing schools.

Respondents offered support for many of the provisions in NCLB. For example, 77 percent agree with NCLB’s requirement that school systems restructure failing schools; 76 percent support NCLB’s requirement that school systems provide tutoring services; and 74 percent agree that school systems should be required to offer students the ability to transfer to a higher-performing school outside the school district in which they live. Support for vouchers, however, was mixed, with 53 percent favoring vouchers and an additional 15 percent supporting vouchers only as a last resort.

Respondents “consistently agree” that teacher quality is a key factor in students’ academic development, with 75 percent saying that good teachers can close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their higher-income peers. However, they are also skeptical about teachers’ preparation both before and after they enter a classroom. Approximately 25 percent say that teachers use the best research available to design instruction that helps students improve their academic achievement, and only 27 percent feel that postsecondary institutions are preparing teachers to be effective. As an incentive to recruit and retain more teachers, respondents support pay-for-performance for teachers whose students improve in their academic achievement.

The complete survey is available at


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.