ERIC Identifier: ED293972 Publication Date: 1988-02-00
Author: Ascher, Carol Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
High School Graduates in Entry Level Jobs: What Do Employers
Want? ERIC/CUE Digest Number 40.
Educators should not, of course, limit a high school graduate's capabilities
to those skills employers want from entry-level employees. It is, however,
instructive to review the new and fairly consistent information about which
skills both blue- and white-collar entry-level workers need in such widely
varied sectors as manufacturing, retailing, banking, and services. Note, too,
that, when citing desired skills, employers do not make clear whether the skills
are also necessary for their more advanced positions, though many students whose
first job is an entry-level position will later move into more complicated work
and/or continue in their schooling.
Although employers may have to screen a number of applicants before accepting
one, only a relatively small percentage say they suffer from a shortage of
qualified candidates at the entry level (Crain, 1984). Moreover, while employers
look for high school diplomas, they appear to be less interested in grades or
competency than in previous work experience. For most entry-level work,
employers want an employee competent in the basic skills; they generally do not
seek the more advanced reading, thinking, and scientific skills called for in
many of the reform commission reports (Gustafson & Groves, 1977; McPartland,
et al., 1983). In fact, work-related social skills and habits are as important
to employers as the basic skills: workers should present themselves well; be
enthusiastic, responsible, cooperative, disciplined, flexible, and willing to
learn; and show a general understanding of the workplace and world of business
(CED, 1985; Crain, 1984; McPartland, et al., 1983; Owens & Monthey, 1983).
However, hiring workers with these latter abilities is more difficult than
finding ones with the required core of academic skills (McPartland, et al.,
EMPLOYEE APPLICATION AND INTERVIEW
Because in most
communities around the nation the number of applicants for entry-level positions
far exceeds the openings, employers of large numbers of entry-level workers tend
to screen applicants through written applications. They enable employers to
evaluate such skills as correctly following written directions, using correct
spelling and grammar. Moreover, if the applicant indicates a work history,
stability and reliability can be determined from former employers (Gordon,
Interviews are used subsequently to evaluate a candidate's ability to
communicate (including the use of full and appropriate language), appearance,
confidence, knowledge of the company, and desire to learn (Chatham, 1982).
WORK-RELATED SOCIAL SKILLS AND HABITS
Employers focus on
personal traits and social skills--qualities that the Committee for Economic
Development has termed part of "the invisible curriculum" of the school (CED,
1985, p. 20). Thus, when schools tolerate absenteeism, truancy, tardiness,
sloppy work, and misbehavior, they are not helping students establish necessary
Although employers seldom consider grades or test scores, which high schools
prospective entry-level employees attend can be important because of the social
attitudes and skills presumed to have been taught. And, though employers rarely
take into consideration whether a white prospective employee has attended an
"inner-city high school" or a "suburban high school with a good reputation,"
they do see black, particularly male, prospective employees from suburban
(usually predominantly white) high schools as potentially more acceptable
employees. Although these suburban high schools are not necessarily expected to
have given black male students a superior education, they are assumed to be less
likely to have inner-city gangs and more likely to have socialized the students
to be "more comfortable around whites" (Crain, 1984).
A survey of managers, supervisors, and employers of entry-level personnel
found the following work-related social skills and habits most important in
entry-level employees (Hulsart & Bauman, 1983):
Communication Skills: giving clear oral instructions and explanations of
activities and ideas; reporting accurately on what others have said; staying on
the topic in job-related conversations; using appropriate vocabulary and
grammar; and following the intent of oral directions and instructions. This is
the area in which entry-level employees do best, although some do have
difficulty following the intent of oral instructions and using appropriate
vocabulary and grammar.
Interpersonal Skills: functioning cooperatively with individual co-workers
and as a team member; adhering to company policies and regulations, and to
honesty, health, and safety standards; cooperating with the business' customers;
being open to new ideas and methods; seeking clarification of instructions when
necessary; exercising patience and tolerance; accepting constructive criticism
and supervision; exhibiting leadership; and understanding supervisory authority
and worker responsibility. Workers have most difficulty asking for clarification
of instructions and accepting constructive criticism from supervisors. Often
employees also exhibit the contradictory problem of not taking sufficient
initiative at the same time as inappropriately assuming responsibility.
BASIC ACADEMIC SKILLS
Few employers are looking for much
more academically than basic literacy, but they do want workers who are "quick
learners" (McPartland, et al., 1983) and who have a "willingness to adapt and
learn" (Junge, 1983). Nevertheless, employers often cite inadequacies in basic
skills--including, writing, reading, listening, the ability to communicate, and
mathematics--noting that these inadequacies appear as causes for poor worker
morale and high turnover, or prohibit advancement (Center for Public Resources,
1982; Junge, 1983; Hulsart & Bauman, 1983; Chatham, 1982).
A survey of managers, supervisors, and employers of entry level personnel
found the following academic skills considered MOST IMPORTANT in entry-level
employees (Hulsart & Bauman, 1983):
Reading Skills: reading for details and following written directions. The
importance of speed increases as the employee advances. Entry-level employees
have the most difficulty interpreting pictorial information and understanding
ideas and concepts. This affects, for example, their reading of instructions;
employees tend to ask other workers for help rather than reading an instruction
manual. On-the-job reading is more detailed and technical than most reading
offered in high school.
Mathematics Skills: doing basic calculations, estimating quantities and using
numerical values from charts and tables; checking for accuracy. Young workers
most often have difficulty calculating numerical values from charts;
constructing records requiring calculations; and using fractions, decimals, and
Writing Skills: writing legibly and completing forms accurately; writing
standard English; selecting, organizing, and relating ideas, and proofreading
one's own writing. Employers are more critical of writing than any other area,
asserting that young workers have difficulty with all these aspects of writing
and are unconcerned about accuracy.
Problem-Solving/Reasoning Skills: determining work activities to be
performed; recognizing and using appropriate procedures and resources in
carrying out the work; conducting work activities in appropriate sequence;
recognizing the effects of changing the quantity or quality of materials;
collecting and organizing information; identifying possible alternative
approaches to solutions; reviewing progress periodically to assure timely
completion; evaluating for accuracy and completeness and correcting
deficiencies; summarizing and drawing reasonable conclusions; delivering
completed work to the appropriate destination on time; and devising better work
methods. Employees have most difficulty identifying alternative approaches and
summarizing and drawing conclusions.
Except in some specialized businesses,
few employers prefer workers with specialized vocational training. Vocational
education graduates are very proficient in the skills they are trained in, but
have a hard time generalizing these skills to other tasks (Owens & Monthey,
According to the survey of managers, supervisors, and employers of entry
level personnel, the following were the most important skills for entry-level
Manual/Perceptual Skills: constructing, fabricating or assembling materials;
using job specific hand tools and other equipment; developing visual
presentations; using keyboard skills; and operating job-specific power
equipment. Entry-level employees are generally successful in these skills.
The skills outlined above are important,
universally agreed upon by employers, and set a minimum standard for entry-level
work applicants. While schools should certainly develop higher order academic
skills in all students, they should also ensure that students learn all the
basic social and academic skills needed for an entry-level job.
Center for Public Resources. (1982). Basic
skills in the United States work force. New York: Human Resources Executives
Chatham, K.M. (1982). Employment practices with entry-level workers. San
Francisco: Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development. ED 226
Committee for Economic Development (CED). (1985). Investing in our Children.
New York: Author.
Crain, R.L. (1984). The quality of American high school graduates: What
personnel officers say and do about it. Baltimore, MD: Center for the Social
Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University.
Gordon, R. (1985). Employer hiring decisions. Columbus, OH: National Center
for Research in Vocational Education, Ohio State University. ED 262 253
Gustafson, R.A., & Groves, P.M. (1977). How New Hampshire employers
evaluate their employees: Implications for vocational education. Concord, NH:
New Hampshire Research Coordinating Unit for Vocational Technical Education. ED
Hulsart, R., & Bauman, P. (1983). Colorado employability skills survey:
Report of results. Denver, CO: Colorado State Department of Education. ED 240
Junge, D.C., Daniels, M.H., & Karmos, J.S. (1983, June). Perception of
business and industry: Basic skills necessary for successful employment compared
to competencies for entry level employees. Carbondale, IL: Illinois State Board
of Education. ED 252 703
McPartland, J.M., Dawkins, R.L., & Braddock II, J.H. (1986, April). The
school's role in the transition from education to work: Current conditions and
future prospects. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Social
Organization of Schools.
Owens, T.R., & Monthey, W. (1983). Private sector views of vocational
education: A statewide employer survey. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional
Laboratory. ED 239 046
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