High school leavers can't think, can't communicate

2008

American businesses pride themselves on their innovation but, with U.S schools turning out a generation unable to think creatively or communicate effectively, the future is looking bleak.

According to a study by The Conference Board, an overwhelming majority of secondary school head-teachers and employers believe the ability to think creatively and communicate effectively is becoming increasing important within American workplaces.

Yet the research, which was also carried out by Americans for the Arts and the American Association of School Administrators, found that most high schools and employers only provided such training only on an elective or "as needed" basis.

The study comes as a snapshot of the employment climate facing U.S college graduates has been published, suggesting that, while jobs will be more scarce, counter-intuitively compensation packages could be more generous.

The study by recruiter Monster found that nearly six out of 10 of the 654 polled said they planned to hire 2008 graduates, a 17 percent drop from the same point last year.

Nearly a third was unsure about their hiring plans right now, nearly twice as many who were indecisive in 2007.

Yet those who do manage to land an entry-level position can expect to receive more generous compensation packages, the survey also found.

Fully a third of companies surveyed planned to increase starting salaries, with the average entry-level compensation rising to $39,500, up from $36,000 in 2007.

The Conference Board research also identified clear gaps in what employers looked for from new graduates and what schools rated as important.

Both the head teachers, or superintendents as they are know, and employers agreed that the ability to identify new patterns of behaviour and integrate and evaluate knowledge from different disciplines were foremost in demonstrating creativity.

But while employers said problem identification and articulation were the most important talents indicating creativity, school superintendents ranked this skill only 9th.

Conversely, while these superintendents rated problem-solving the highest, employers ranked it only 8th.

These discrepancies bolstered the view that, while schools taught students how to solve problems put before them, the business sector wanted workers who could identify the problems in the first place, the Conference Board said.

In addition, seven out of 10 superintendents presumed employers preferred "creative thinkers" over "technically skilled" individuals, whereas in fact employers as a group were evenly split.

"This study offers a great deal of food for thought and continued investigation," said Jonathan Spector, chief executive officer of The Conference Board.

"In particular, we believe it is time for employers to evaluate how well their corporate support of education and the arts, as well as their own employee-training programs, stack up against the strategic value they themselves place on innovation and its creative underpinning.

"It is also time for greater dialogue within and across all sectors to better understand and align efforts to foster creativity in current and future employees," he added.

More than eight out of 10 employers concerned with hiring creative people said they could not find the applicants they sought, the survey also found.

"There is no question that the arts should be an essential element of education," said Robert L Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts.

"Additionally, the arts are an indispensable tool for building the creative thinking skills essential to ensuring that American business and culture will prosper.

"And this study demonstrates there is increased recognition among business and education leaders that the arts are a vital factor to building a competitive and highly effective workforce," he added.