‘How Do I Do That?’ The New Hires of 2023 Are Unprepared for Work | Kanebridge News
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‘How Do I Do That?’ The New Hires of 2023 Are Unprepared for Work

Remote learning during the pandemic left students short of basic skills. Now companies are trying to teach them on the job.

By DOUGLAS BELKIN
Thu, Aug 3, 2023 9:48amGrey Clock 7 min

Roman Devengenzo was consulting for a robotics company in Silicon Valley last fall when he asked a newly minted mechanical engineer to design a small aluminum part that could be fabricated on a lathe—a skill normally mastered in the first or second year of college.

“How do I do that?” asked the young man.

So Devengenzo, an engineer who has built technology for NASA and Google, and who charges consulting clients a minimum of $300 an hour, spent the next three hours teaching Lathework 101. “You learn by doing,” he said. “These kids in school during the pandemic, all they’ve done is work on computers.”

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 shortcomings run the gamut from general knowledge, including how to make change at a register, to soft skills such as working with others. 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.

Talent First, a business-led workforce-development organisation in Grand Rapids, Mich., is encouraging employers to stop trying to hire based on skill. Instead, hiring managers should look for a willingness to learn, said President Kevin Stotts.

“Employers are saying, ‘We’re just trying to find some people who could fog the mirror,’ ” Stotts said.

Since 2020, when the pandemic began and remote learning moved students out of schools and into virtual classrooms, the pass rates on national certifications and assessment exams taken by engineers, office workers, soldiers and nurses have all fallen.

Among the approximately 40,000 candidates taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam for work as professional engineers, scores fell by about 10% during the pandemic, said David Cox, CEO of the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying.

That means fewer engineers on the job and a lower degree of competency among those who make it, he said.

The sharpest declines in scores came on questions measuring the most specialised knowledge. Structural engineers failed to answer questions about the use of trusses in the construction of bridges and roadways, Cox said.

“These are areas that are very much involved in public safety,” he said.

Students in elementary and middle schools across the nation fell behind by an average of about four months during the pandemic after classes switched to remote learning in 2020 and stayed that way in some cases through 2021. On national standardised tests, the scores of fourth- and eighth-graders fell to 30-year lows.

Students who were in high-school and college when Covid-19 hit and are now entering the workforce didn’t fare much better. Despite lowered standards at many schools during the pandemic, high-school graduation rates fell. Scores for college admissions exams dropped to the lowest level in three decades.

Janet Godwin, chief executive of ACT, the nonprofit organisation which administers the college admission test of the same name, said more high-school graduates today lack the fundamental academic skills needed for college and the workplace, with low-performing students facing the steepest declines.

In Covid-19’s aftermath, many college professors restructured curricula for students who lack basic study skills.

“Reading, writing and critical-thinking skills are not the same as they were in the past,” said Mike Altman, a religion professor at the University of Alabama who said he has narrowed his curriculum to give his students more time to master basics.

During the pandemic more than 100,000 nurses left the field, the largest decline in four decades of available data, a study in the journal Health Affairs showed. That has placed tremendous strain on hospitals and increased demands on programs to graduate more nurses. But students taking entrance exams to study nursing are scoring an average of about 5 percentage points lower than before the pandemic, limiting the number of students eligible to enrol in nursing programs.

More students who do enrol struggle to earn passing grades, said Patty Knecht, Vice President of Ascend Learning Healthcare, a private company which helps train medical professionals. And even if they do graduate, more are struggling to pass a certification exam. By then, they may already be on the payroll but unable to work. The delays cost hospitals an average of $42,000 per student who fails the certification exam, said Knecht.

Last year, Ivy Tech Community College, the largest nursing program in Indiana, embedded tutors in classrooms to assist lagging students with skills they should have mastered in high school. Some of the most basic included the math necessary to figure out correct dosages for medicine.

Joseph Mulumba, who is about to start his sophomore year in the Ivy Tech nursing program, was a high-school sophomore in Indiana when the pandemic arrived. His school was remote for a year.

“I feel like I would have learned a lot more if not for the pandemic,” Mulumba said. “When I got here I realised I wasn’t ready for nursing school. I realised I didn’t know how to study.”

Jerrica Moses, national recruitment manager for Senture, a London, Ky.-based call-centre company, says new workers have problems with soft skills, such as an inability to deal with frustration. Senture, which employs about 4,200 customer-service representatives, has adopted a new set of tests to determine which prospective employees will be able to keep their cool under stress from angry or rude callers.

“Candidates who wash out respond by explaining how aggravated they get with the callers and then focus on the stress,” said Moses. Most of the people who struggle are under 25 years old, she added.

Ivan Schury, 17, helps cook on the line at the John Ball Zoo’s Monkey Island Cafe. PHOTO: STEVE KOSS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

In Grand Rapids, managers at the John Ball Zoo are coaching seasonal workers in their teens and early 20s on basics such as why it’s important to look visitors in the eye, and how to make change at a cash register.

They are also trying to instil a work ethic in their employees that includes taking some initiative, getting off their phones and engaging with visitors, said Laura Davis, the director of strategy and organisational development at the zoo. Her young employees haven’t been held accountable for things like finishing homework assignments, and Davis believes that has led to a decline in motivation.

“They’re not looking to be productive,” Davis said. “If they’re not told what to do, if someone isn’t managing every second and keeping them busy, their inclination is not to self identify what they can do—it’s to do nothing.”

The pandemic arrived when Ivan Schury was in the eighth grade. Now 17 years old and a supervisor in the zoo’s kitchen, he said the isolation he and his peers experienced over the next few years have left many distracted and disengaged.

Last week a teenager working the fry station kept wandering off. “He just kept walking away to talk to his friends at the counter,” Schury said. “I spend a lot of time making sure people stay on task.”

Charity Fields, age 19, stands inside the gift shop of the John Ball Zoo. PHOTO: STEVE KOSS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Charity Fields, 19 years old, works in the gift shop and says she is frequently surprised by the lack of motivation of her younger co-workers. A few days ago a 16-year-old fellow sales associate sat in a chair reading a book while customers shopped.

“I told her we weren’t really supposed to do that,” Fields said. The girl got up, stood near the cash register, leaned on the counter and continued to read.

The problem extends to the U.S. military, exacerbating pressures the services face from poor recruiting.

Army recruits aren’t communicating within their squads as well as they did before the pandemic, instructors say. Scores on recruiting exams fell 9% since the pandemic and prompted the Army to create a new testing boot camp to help recruits pass, a requirement for gaining admission to the military.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth believes a lot of the struggles are tied into isolation that took root when students learned remotely during the pandemic.

“So many young people spent two years in relative isolation and not doing a lot of group projects,” she said.

Young workers’ struggles have become vividly apparent to Criteria Corp, a Los Angeles company that administers about 10 million assessments a year to evaluate prospective employees.

New soldiers at Ft. Moore in Georgia are drilled in test-taking skills, including deep-breathing exercises, so they can perform better on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB. PHOTO: DAVID WALTER BANKS FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Results for test takers overall have held steady with a notable decline in the scores of men between 18 and 24 and usually with a high-school education, said Josh Millet, co-founder and CEO of the company.

The company’s Criteria Basic Skills Test measures reading comprehension, verbal skills and numeracy. Companies use it to hire for positions such as administrative assistants, customer-service representatives, medical assistants, insurance salespeople and bank tellers.

Verbal scores for men under 25 declined by 11 percentage points over the three years of the pandemic. Scores for women were less dramatically affected. The biggest dips among men were registered in communication skills, reading comprehension, grammar, spelling and attention to detail, said Millet.

“Our customers consistently tell us that finding high-quality candidates is the single greatest challenge to the successful execution of their talent strategies, and it seems that diminished educational outcomes may exacerbate that challenge,” Millet said.

Cindy Neal, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Peoria, Ill., places about 1,500 people in jobs every year. Since the pandemic, she has seen sharp declines in the behaviour of job applicants as well as their performance on employment exams.

The company has long offered courses for people to gain new skills such as QuickBooks. This spring they added new courses to help prospective workers with soft skills. Some of the chapters taught include taking initiative, personal productivity, cellphone etiquette, workplace hygiene, dressing appropriately for work and handling conflict with co-workers.

“This stuff used to be taught in schools,” Neal said. “Now people have to be told not to bring their kids to work.”

Results on the 15-minute employment exam the company administers to clients when they walk in the door are also declining.

Tasks on the quiz include recognising misspellings in words like “availability,” “repetition” and “privilege,” and math questions such as: “If you were asked to load 225 boxes onto a truck and the boxes are crated, with each crate containing nine boxes, how many crates would you need to load?”

The scores in math and spelling are the worst she’s seen in 30 years, she said, adding, “I’m really concerned by the product that’s coming out of the school system currently.”



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The United Arab Emirates is improving its electric vehicle infrastructure with a new government-owned EV charging network.

Wed, May 22, 2024 2 min

The UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (MoEI) alongside Etihad Water and Electricity (Etihad WE) have collaborated to form UAEV, a new joint venture aimed at strengthening the electric vehicle (EV) charging framework throughout the UAE. This venture is the first EV charging network entirely owned by the government, aimed at broadening access to EV charging facilities across the country.

The project seeks to revolutionize the UAE’s transport sector by enabling broader adoption of EVs via a robust and widespread charging infrastructure. This initiative is expected to strengthen communities, generate employment, and promote eco-friendly transportation options.

Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, said: “UAEV embodies the power of partnership between government and industry, and aims to provide vital electric vehicle infrastructure to boost adoption of EVs, energize communities, and unleash the economic potential of the UAE.

“We hope that this partnership will further accelerate the transition to cleaner transportation and significantly reduce emissions from the transportation sector, thereby helping to bring our Net Zero 2050 Strategy within reach.”

Sharif Al Olama, who has been appointed Chairman of UAEV, said: “In 2023, we saw a rise in EV adoption in the UAE. By expanding our EV infrastructure, we ensure the country is equipped to support those who have already purchased an EV and make the prospect of switching to EV attractive.

“Together, MoEI and Etihad WE form a powerful force that can help future-proof the UAE and achieve the twin objectives of economic growth and climate action, which underpin UAEV.”

The UAEV is also a perfect platform for Etihad WE, the largest employer in the Northern Emirates and a company with a customer base of over 2 million households, to use its core competency and enhance its product offering.

Yousif Ahmed Al Ali, CEO of Etihad Water and Electricity and Board Member of UAEV, explained: “It is part of a deliberate strategy to diversify our operations, using the knowledge and experience acquired from our role as long-standing pioneers in the energy sector, to explore new products, services, projects, and investments which will benefit our customers.

“UAEV charging infrastructure will contribute to the modernization of the UAE’s transport network, help energize communities by creating new jobs, and empower our customers to make more sustainable choices.”

 

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