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Employers Want Schools to Teach Basics, Survey Says

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Frustrated with young employees who have trouble spelling simple words or counting change, Ventura business people want local schools to put more emphasis on teaching the basics, a new survey shows.

The poll by the Ventura Unified School District shows local employers also think high school graduates need to improve not only their academic skills but their work habits.

More than half of the survey’s 60 respondents--who ranged from bank vice presidents to retirement home managers--said most recent high school graduates they employ are irresponsible and lacking in personal integrity.

“They want someone else to do their work for them,” one employer wrote on the survey.

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“Swatting (of students) should be reinstated,” wrote another.

School officials had sought feedback from Ventura Chamber of Commerce members about recent graduates from the Ventura Unified School District.

But the survey failed to clearly ask respondents to comment only on employees who had graduated from local schools. And some employers apparently used the survey to size up all their employees--no matter how long ago they had graduated or where they had gone to school, school officials said.

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Nevertheless, Ventura school officials said the responses are useful.

“Even though it doesn’t represent our students, it does represent public perception of education,” Ventura school board member Cliff Rodriguez said.

School officials said they plan to study the survey’s results to get ideas for curriculum changes. “It opens up a floodgate of questions,” Administrative Services Director Arlene Miro said.

Conducted over the summer, the survey asked chamber members to rate high school graduates in five areas: basic skills, thinking skills, personal qualities, interpersonal skills and informational skills.

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The worst marks came in basic writing skills, with nearly three-quarters of respondents saying most recent graduates are unable to spell or use punctuation correctly.

Business people also rated graduates extremely low in their level of commitment to their community and their ability to acquire and evaluate information.

Despite such deficiencies, employees apparently have no trouble maintaining a good opinion of themselves. Survey respondents gave graduates a higher rating in the area of self-esteem than in almost any other category.

Graduates also were rated highly on their ability to use technology and to work cooperatively with others--two areas that the state Department of Education has stressed in recent years.

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Frank Drabickas, an administrator at the Ventura Towne House retirement home on Telegraph Avenue, said he employs about 40 high school students and recent graduates as waiters and waitresses in his facility’s dining room.

“The kids really lack the basic skills,” he said. “They may misspell ‘breakfast’ or certain simple things like that.”

They also have difficulty with simple tasks such as filling out charge-card receipts, he said. “I’m talking about simple arithmetic, like adding $1.15 and $1.79 and adding sales tax.”

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The core problem, Drabickas said, is that many young workers seem to lack the motivation to improve their skills or to do their best. “That’s probably the real thing. It’s just not important to them. They just today are not as highly motivated as I’d like them to be.”

Robert J. Alviani, vice president and manager of the First Interstate Bank branch on Telephone Road, said many of his tellers and other entry-level workers simply seem unaware of what they need to do to be good employees.

“Things such as dependability, being punctual, understanding how to work, how they’re part of a team” are sorely lacking, he said.

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In response to such concerns, Miro said, the district may decide to change its focus in some areas.

“For instance, we stress a lot of creative writing, a lot of flowing kinds of narratives,” she said. “Is that what the employers want?”

As far as students’ poor work habits, Miro said some of the blame for that problem lies with parents.

“Schools can probably take part of that responsibility,” she said. “But parents also have to take a lot of that responsibility. That starts when they’re little tots.”

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Ventura school officials have already tried to address such issues as personableness, courtesy and punctuality in their districtwide curriculum on character traits.

Miro said they could work with parents to emphasize traits children need to succeed in the world of work.


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