Denise Reading pulls no punches when she discusses the flaws of American employment preparation.
Reading, the CEO of GetWorkerFIT, a career assessment and planning organization, spoke with the Highland County commissioners recently about the driving force behind her organization and the problems that stem from an education system that she said does not prepare students for the workforce.
“We’re so busy being academic, that we’re not connecting to what is the real need of our economy, business and industry,” she said in a presentation to commissioners last week. “My organization is the first and only one that told companies that if we trained your workers and they couldn’t do the job, you didn’t have to pay us — and that’s something the education world ought to do.”
She said the current attitude in academia is “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” but when outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich spoke recently in Cleveland, he was quoted as saying “our systems are broken.”
There was a time, she said, that rightly or wrongly, the perception was the “American dream” could only be had if one went to college and earned a degree.
“That model worked when this country went from an agricultural to an industrial/service economy,” she said. “But when high technology came into play about 20 years ago with all these different industries, our schools failed to make the connection and now we’re in a situation where the majority can’t afford to go to college, and those that do won’t graduate.”
According to statistics from her GetWorkerFIT consulting firm, 93 percent of businesses believe colleges and universities are not preparing graduates with the skills they need to succeed in a career, and 54 percent of people who graduated college believe they are currently under employed.
She said that employers in contact with her company have said they need people who possess “professional soft skills.”
“They have got to be able to come to work and then be able to manage their time, set performance goals and manage their emotions,” she said. “These were things that someone else taught us growing up, but this generation hasn’t a clue as to what these things are.”
Employers want people who can think on their feet, solve problems and work as a team, she said, and in all of the research studies conducted, those basic “ready-to-work” skills were more important to employers than a college degree.
“The average high school student gets less than 38 minutes of career guidance and advice,” she said. “There is on average one high school guidance counselor to 500 kids across the nation, and in the state of Ohio their main job is ensuring students can pass the state testing, and dealing with students with serious issues in their life or at home.”
Reading claims the GetWorkerFIT solution of career assessment and planning can be achieved in the next five to 10 years, and she pointed to what her organization is doing in Highland County’s neighbor to the south, Adams County.
“They had their first GetWorkerFIT group meeting back in July,” she said. “In six months, the community leaders got together and realized they didn’t have any more time to waste. They know that there are no more jobs in that area since the power plants closed. They’ve got 28,000 citizens, 4,000 are working and the rest commute outside of the county, or they don’t work.”
She said the one of the problems she sees in Adams County is a disproportionate number of the labor force isn’t working in private industry.
“They have about 4,000 people working in Adams County,” she said, “and the majority of them that are earning a living wage are working for the government, some sort of health care discipline or the public school system, and that’s the sign of an unhealthy economy.”
She said that when the majority of the workforce is employed in those three areas, the local economy is in trouble, and she said Adams County is in deep trouble because they have no major employer left.
“By using our career assessment and planning tools, we can look at the numbers and see what the percentage of people would be who are good in tech fields, some in finance, some in healthcare, some in construction,” she said, “and by knowing people’s strengths and weaknesses, we can look at the job supply chain and then market that to those who have jobs, which is practically every employer in the nation.”
She said there will be 55 million job openings by 2020 and of those, roughly one-third will require the “right” bachelor’s degree, 30 percent will require an associate’s degree or field certification and 36 percent will need applicants with a high school diploma.
“Everybody that comes out of high school should be ready, willing and able to go to work,” she said, “regardless of whether they’re college-bound or not.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.