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Zack Hutchins
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518.465.7511

For Release — Monday, May 11, 1998

NEW SURVEY SAYS EMPLOYERS IN NEW YORK STATE
FACE A 'SKILLS GAP' IN HIRING WORKERS

ALBANY — Employers across New York State remain very concerned about the quality of high-school graduates available for jobs. But they are generally much more satisfied with the quality of preparation provided in the state's community colleges, and in public and private four-year colleges.

Those were among the key findings of a major survey of employers conducted by The Business Council of New York State, Inc., and compiled by the Public Policy Institute, the research affiliate of The Council.

Some 44 percent of employers in the survey rated the basic skills of newly hired high-school graduates as either "poor" or "very poor." But those negative ratings totaled only 14.5 percent for newly hired community college graduates, and only 5.5 percent for newly hired four-year college graduates.

Asked about their overall experience in hiring skilled workers, whether directly from school or from the experienced workforce, nearly 44 percent of all firms said they find a "moderate" (35.1 percent) or "severe" (8.8 percent) gap between the newly hired workers' skills, and the employer's needs. Smaller companies were as concerned about this skills gap as were larger companies; 45.7 percent of companies with fewer than 200 employees said they find a "moderate" or "severe" gap, as did five of the 11 with over 1,000 (or 45.5 percent).

The survey tapped data from 148 companies large and small across the state. The companies in the overall survey reported hiring an average of 51 new employees last year; the survey group included 11 companies with employment of over 1,000, who reported hiring an average of 292 workers last year.

The survey responses were gathered during March and April, and released by the Institute today in conjunction with its annual Public Policy Forum in Albany, which focuses this year on workforce preparedness. (The forum is being held between 3:15 p.m. and 5 p.m. in Meeting Room 6 at the Convention Center, and is open to the news media. The forum will open with a keynote address by Dr. Albert J. Simone, president of the Rochester Institute of Technology.)

The survey's questions were designed to probe employers' attitudes about newly hired workers, about the quality of secondary and higher education, about the training needs of their current workers, and about the quality of courses available to them for post-hire training.

The survey found widespread support among employers for the state's ongoing effort to upgrade standards in the schools—with 77 percent of respondents saying they favor higher standards for high-school diplomas.

Equally important, 73 percent of the respondents would like to see more technical training in high schools; support for that idea was high among both large and small companies. Most respondents said that in the future they expect their hiring ratios to switch towards hiring more community-college and four-year college graduates, or to hire more high-school graduates with technical training.

Almost all the employers who responded to the survey said their existing workforce needs to obtain skills upgrading in one or more areas—with technology skills ranking first, at 84.5 percent, and critical thinking skills a close second, 77.7 percent. Almost 70 percent said productivity in their companies had suffered because of employee skill gaps. Again, there was little difference between small and large companies on these concerns.

Other findings of the survey included these:

  • One-third of the respondents reported difficulty in finding qualified workers for skilled manufacturing jobs.
  • Difficulties were also reported in finding engineers (25.7 percent), computer technicians and operators (24.3 percent) and sales and marketing positions (24.3 percent), among others.
  • Asked about the preparation of newly hired high-school graduates on a variety of criteria, employers seemed even more concerned about the graduates' interpersonal qualities than about their general knowledge levels—with 48 percent rating newly hired high-school graduates as "poor" or "very poor" in interpersonal skills. In terms of their academic knowledge, by comparison, only 39 percent gave these new hires "poor" or "very poor" ratings.
  • However, the largest area of concern about high-school graduates was in systems skills; 54.6 percent rated those as "poor" or "very poor."
  • Technology skills among newly hired high-school graduates were rated "poor" or "very poor" by 52.6 percent; thinking skills were rated "poor" or "very poor" by 51.1 percent; information skills were ranked "poor" or "very poor" by 50.4 percent.
  • Newly hired graduates of community colleges ranked much better in every area, and newly hired four-year college graduates generally even better.
  • Almost 38 percent of respondents said newly hired community-college graduates had "good" or "excellent" basic skills; another 51.9 percent ranked these basic skills as "fair," and less than 15 percent ranked community college graduates as "poor" or "very poor" in basic skills.
  • The graduates of four-year colleges were rated as "good" or "excellent" in basic skills by 66.4 percent; only 6 respondents rated these skills as "poor," and none rated them as "very poor."
  • Almost half of the respondents said their companies had used community colleges to provide training for upgrading the skills of their current workers; almost 70 percent of those companies rated the community college programs they had used as "good" or "excellent."
  • Fewer companies reported using four-year public or private colleges for training. But those who had done so rated these colleges highly, also. Almost 15 percent of those who had used programs at public colleges said the overall quality of the college programs had been "excellent," and 53.2 percent said they had been "good." Almost 16 percent of those who had used programs at private colleges said the programs had been "excellent," and 56.8 percent rated them as "good."
  • The respondents are heavily in favor of more technical training in college, as well as in high schools. About 57 percent of respondents overall—and over 80 percent of those from companies employing 500 or more—favor expanded technical training in colleges.
  • Particularly among smaller companies, there is skepticism about the value of additional government-funded job training. Only 34.5 percent of respondents overall said they would favor expanding government-funded job training programs—although support for that idea was higher among respondents from companies with 200 or more employees.
  • Respondents overwhelmingly favor improved linkages between business and education; 75.7 percent favored that idea, and support for it was relatively uniform across all sizes of businesses.
  • More than 64 percent of all respondents—and more than 80 percent of those from companies with over 500 employees—said their firms would be willing to work with educators to define the competencies needed for the workforce of the future. Most said they would be willing to help the education system in one or more other ways, such as offering summer jobs or other work experience, sponsoring mentors programs, and/or helping with staff development for teachers.

Click here for the full 15-page compilation of the survey, with results cross-tabulated by size of company.

Click here for the survey questions.

The Business Council is New York's largest broad-based business group, representing over 3,000 member companies large and small across the state. Based in Albany, it lobbies for a better business climate, and offers cost-cutting services to its members.

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