Report: US grads are missing one thing—the ability to function like adults

If you dare.
If you dare.
Image: Reuters/Mike Segar
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The US is graduating high school students at an all-time record rate. Having coming of age in the metric-focused No Child Left Behind era, these students’ academic and technical skills have been tested more than perhaps any generation before them. Yet employers looking to hire them say too many of today’s graduates lack the basic interpersonal skills to succeed in the workplace, according to a new report from the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“Even when applicants make it past the interview process, employers are coping with new hires who are unsure of how to write a professional email, who struggle to organize and prioritize tasks, or who have a difficult time collaborating with coworkers,” the report’s authors wrote.

The report echoes a frequently reported complaint from employers in recent years about the lack of so-called “soft skills” among US students. In a 2016 PayScale survey of nearly 64,000 managers, 60% complained that young hires in their companies lacked the critical thinking and problem solving skills necessary to get the job done.

Young cohorts of workers typically get more criticism than they deserve. Problem-solving skills tend to get a lot better with maturity and on-the-job experience, and there’s no clear evidence that millennials, for instance, are actually more entitled than any other generation was at their age.

What is true, however, is that soft skills get relatively little time in many US classrooms. One review of 4,000 teacher-training classes in the US found that fewer than 10% discussed social skills or self-awareness. There are no state or national standards for teaching interpersonal or self-management skills in the US, unlike the more than two dozen other OECD countries that have such skills as part of their national curriculum.

“Businesses large and small constantly tell us how hard it is to find qualified workers who can not only do the job, but who can also show up to work on time, dress appropriately, and work well with a team,” Cheryl Oldham, senior vice president for the US Chamber of Commerce, was quoted as saying in the report. In the absence of a clear curriculum, the report argued that businesses should be partnering with schools to make sure students get the skills their future employers want.