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Jewish World Review April 27, 2001 / 5 Iyar , 5761

He Works/She Works
By Jaine Carter and James D. Carter

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Consumer Reports

What kinds of workplace skills do today's workers need? -- WHAT kinds of workplace skills do today's employees need in order to be successful?

According to a new survey commissioned by Bayer Corp. in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, the newest employees in America's workforce and their managers were asked to define the special skills needed by today's workers in order to manage continuing change in the workplace.

Both managers and employees appear to agree that new employees need to be flexible and adaptable, able to solve unforeseen problems and do their best work in teams. They differ primarily over how well equipped new employees actually are with these skills and how well their education has prepared them for their jobs.

Managers in particular are concerned that students today may not be adequately prepared for tomorrow's job setting. Because of this, they predict workers will increasingly face competition for jobs from countries where citizens have stronger science and math skills.

Those are among the central findings of "The Bayer Facts of Science-Education VII: The State of American's New Workforce" survey, which uses the perspectives of both employees and managers to assess how well U.S. education has prepared the newest generation of American workers for the work environment.

When asked to select which one of two contrasting skills employers value more in new hires, both new employees and managers chose being able to:

- Solve unforeseen problems on the job as opposed to referring unforeseen problems to others.

- Adapt to changes in the work environment as opposed to coping with a stable work environment.

- Do their best work in teams as opposed to doing their best work independent of others.

- Continue to expand skills as the company changes and/or grows over refining and mastering in-depth the specifics of their present job.

"It's clear that today's workplace is no longer our father's workplace," said Rebecca Lucore, executive director of the Bayer Foundation. "When asked to choose, new employees and managers, both men and women, consistently selected the skills that are most commonly associated with 'working smart' over the more traditional 'working hard' kind of skills."

Despite seeing eye-to-eye on these valued skills, the new employees and managers differ as to how well equipped with these skills new employees are. While both groups believe new employees have the skills, new employees are most likely to call themselves "very well equipped" while managers are most likely to call new employees only "somewhat equipped."

The same kind of discrepancy emerges regarding how well new employees' education equipped them with these skills, with new employees more positive than managers. Both groups are concerned students in school today may not be adequately prepared for tomorrow's setting and predict they will face increasing competition for jobs from countries where citizens have stronger science and math literacy skills.

Managers who work in the fields of science, technology or medicine tend to be more negative about the quality of education in terms of workplace preparation. When asked which school subjects best prepared them for the workplace, new employees rate English/reading/writing, math and science, in that order, as their top three subjects at each grade level - elementary, middle and high school.

Yet when they were in elementary school, the majority of new employees (53 percent) report that science was given less priority than the other two top subjects and nearly two-thirds (61 percent) say they were taught science mostly the "old fashioned way" - using textbooks, memorization and lecture - rather than through an inquiry-based, hands-on method of experimenting, hypothesizing and testing conclusions.

"This survey's findings that today's workplace values problem-solving, critical-thinking and teamwork reinforces the conclusion that students need to learn science in the kind of experiential, hands-on way that helps to develop these 'working smart' skills," said Curt Suplee, director of the National Science Foundation's office of legislative and public affairs.

Strong majorities of those surveyed (84 percent new employees; 70 percent managers) believe that science education should be given the same or greater priority than reading, writing and math at the elementary school level.

"The overall message that emerges from the survey is that when it comes to preparing students for an increasingly competitive workplace, the U.S. education system gets a passing grade. According to managers, it is doing OK - not great and not terrible," said former astronaut Mae C. Jemison, who now serves as a Dartmouth College professor and science literacy advocate for Bayer's Making Science Make Sense initiative. "The question becomes: Is 'just OK' good enough for the United States in a global economy? Is it good enough to sustain our scientific and technological edge in the world?"

Jaine Carter, Ph.D. and James D. Carter, Ph.D. are management consultants and authors of the book, ''He Works She Works -- Successful Strategies for Working Couples." Comment by clicking here.


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