It's them, not you

New hires coming from high schools and colleges are not well-prepared to work.

A friend’s daughter was sending thank-you notes for high school graduation gifts and didn’t know where to put the postage stamps. Another friend asked her office assistant (a recent college graduate) to fill out check deposit slips only to be asked: “What do I do when I get to the bank?” And when my teenage son was asked to sign something for school, he looked at me, puzzled, and said: “What do they want me to do? Sign in cursive?”

These stories are equally appalling and amusing but not the kids’ fault. No one taught them how to mail letters (texting is how they communicate); go to the bank to make deposits (online banking is all they know); or how to sign their names (keyboarding has taken the place of penmanship). And we parents took it for granted schools would teach basic life skills that extend well beyond stamps and handwriting.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, those who were students during the COVID-19 pandemic and are now joining the workforce weren’t taught soft skills such as conflict resolution, work ethic and working well in teams. The article notes these deficiencies affect workers across all sectors from white collar new hires to service industry workers to U.S. Army recruits and, yes, the construction industry.

In “‘How Do I Do That?’ The New Hires of 2023 Are Unprepared for Work,” the authors note: “The knock-on effect of years of remote learning during the pandemic is gumming up workplaces around the country. It is one reason professional service jobs are going unfilled and goods aren’t making it to market. It also helps explain why national productivity has fallen for the past five quarters, the longest contraction since at least 1948, according to the U.S. Labor Department.”

The authors go on to say: “Employers are spending more time and resources searching for candidates and often lowering expectations when they hire. Then, they are spending millions to fix new employees’ lack of basic skills. Young employees haven’t been held accountable for things like finishing homework assignments, and … that has led to a decline in motivation.”

The sad truth is this will be the reality for a few years until schools can catch up with all the instructional time lost during the pandemic. Cindy Neal, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Peoria, Ill., told The Wall Street Journal: “I’m really concerned by the product that’s coming out of the school system currently.”

But on the bright side: The high school graduate now knows where a stamp goes; the recent new hire learned how easy it is to go to a bank; and my high schooler has mastered the perfect illegible signature.

AMBIKA PUNIANI REID is editor of Professional Roofing and NRCA’s vice president of communications.



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