by Howard Stephenson
Utah employers are satisfied with the reading abilities of their employees who have a high school diploma but are not satisfied with their ability to write, according to a survey of 100 key Utah employers who responded to a questionnaire from the Employers’ Education Coalition.
The same group of employers were more satisfied with the skill levels of their Utah college-trained employees but also rated reading abilities highest and writing lowest.
The Employers’ Education Coalition, chaired by Olympics COO Fraser Bullock, is a group of about 20 representatives of employers and business associations who are meeting bi-weekly between June and November with a handful of education representatives to evaluate strengths and weaknesses of Utah’s education system and what can be done to improve how Utah educators prepare students for the workplace.
Employers were asked to rate the levels of satisfaction of their employees’ abilities in five subject areas for high school graduates and the same subject areas for college graduates. The four rating categories ranged from very satisfied (with a score of 3), somewhat satisfied (2), somewhat unsatisfied (1) and very unsatisfied (0).
EMPLOYEES READ WELL BUT WRITE POORLY
With the mid-point of the rating scale at 1.5, the only areas that showed a weighted average in the satisfactory range for Utah employees with a high school diploma were reading (1.7) and science (1.6). Math skills were rated on the unsatisfactory side of the scale (1.39) along with humanities (1.27), while writing skills were rated lowest (1.03).
Employees with a college degree were rated in the satisfactory range for all five subject areas with reading obtaining the highest rating (2.34) followed by science (2.23), math (2.14), and humanities (1.96). Writing skills of college graduates were the lowest rated (1.7) of the five subject areas with a score just barely in the satisfactory range.
Employers were asked to list the top three to five qualities which education either shapes or influences that employers look to in an employee. Respondents were then asked to rank how satisfied they are with Utah graduates in relation to these qualities. Communication skills were mentioned most often, by nearly half of respondents, with a “somewhat unsatisfied” rating. In this open-ended question, writing skills again showed the lowest satisfaction level while employees’ analytical skills, math, general knowledge, and reading all scored below satisfactory. Reliability and integrity were rated at the midpoint between satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Only two qualities were rated in the satisfactory range: Interpersonal and the science/technology/trade skills area.
Employers were asked to list the top three educational deficiencies in their employees. Communication was listed most frequently followed by writing. Math deficiencies came in a distant third.
TWO-THIRDS SAY UTAH SCHOOLS DO NOT, OR ONLY SOMEWHAT MEET NEEDS.
Respondents were also asked to rate overall how Utah schools are meeting employers’ needs. Just 2 percent reported that schools exceeded their needs, 30 percent said schools meet their needs, 55 percent said schools only somewhat meet their needs and 13 percent said Utah schools did not meet their needs.
WHAT CHANGES ARE NEEDED?
When asked to offer what one change Utah schools could make that would most help employers, five major themes emerged: 1. Increased student accountability — require mastery of basic skills for advancement, 2. Increased focus on basic academic skills, requiring more basics, 3. Increased resources for teachers, including smaller classes and better compensation, 4. Greater emphasis on “real world” skills, requiring more economics, business, finance, technology training, and 5. More emphasis on social skills, getting along with people, conflict resolution, decision making.
The results of this initial opinion survey will be used by the Coalition in their work of proposing a plan for ensuring that Utah public and higher education systems are adequately preparing students to succeed in the workplace.
If you would like to see the results of the survey in their entirety, please contact me at the email address listed below.