Discouraged by long-term unemployment, more Americans are dropping out of the workforce, at least for awhile, reports AP. Some are taking early retirement or applying for disability benefits. Others are enrolling in community college — or graduate school — in hopes of returning to the job market with stronger skills.
. . . the number of Americans in the labor force — those who have a job or are looking for one — fell by nearly half a million people from February to March, the government said Friday. And the percentage of working-age adults in the labor force — what’s called the participation rate — fell to 63.3 percent last month. It’s the lowest such figure since May 1979.
The unemployment rate dropped to a four-year low of 7.6 percent in March from 7.7 in February, but only because people who’ve stopped looking for a job aren’t counted as unemployed. The unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March if 496,000 workers hadn’t given up their job search.
Even Americans of prime working age — 25 to 54 years old — are dropping out of the workforce. Their participation rate fell to 81.1 percent last month, tied with November for the lowest since December 1984.
. . .Young people are leaving the job market, too. The participation rate for Americans ages 20 to 24 hit a 41-year low 69.6 percent last year before bouncing back a bit. Many young people have enrolled in community colleges and universities. That’s one reason a record 63 percent of adults ages 25 to 29 have spent at least some time in college, according to the Pew Research Center.
Doug Damato, 40, who lives in Asheville, N.C., lost his job as an installer at a utility company in February 2012. That fall, he began studying mechanical engineering at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. When his unemployment benefits run out in July, he hopes to find a night job so he can complete his degree.
Graduates of a Missouri technical college can show employers a transcript that includes a “job readiness” score and attendance as well as academic grades, reports Inside Higher Ed. Linn State Technical College hopes the new transcript will help students find jobs.
Instructors evaluate students’ job readiness and work ethic in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship.
Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.
Under work habits, a student who’s diligent, organized and takes pride in a job well done earns a 4. A 3 usually goes beyond the minimum and has a good attitude. At the 2 level, the student is improving but needs supervision. A 1 needs supervision. Under 0, the student is lazy, takes no pride in work, ignores warnings and “thinks minimum is maximum.”
Evaluating workplace readiness is just starting to catch on at a few colleges, reports Inside Higher Ed. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina will issue grades and certificates for “soft skills,” such punctuality and teamwork, to help graduates find jobs.
Employers are complaining that new workers lack a strong work ethic, said Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president. The college worked with industry partners to decide which skills to evaluate.
“Soft skills,” such as punctuality and teamwork will be factored into grades for many students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina, reports Inside Higher Ed. Next year, the college will issue workplace readiness certificates in addition to traditional credentials.
Located in Asheville, N.C., A-B Tech, as it is commonly known, has developed a template that helps faculty members determine how to incorporate eight primary workplace expectations into grading, including personal responsibility, interdependence and emotional intelligence. Soft skills should count for 8 to 10 percent of grades in courses that adopt those guidelines, college officials said.
“We’re teaching our students to walk the walk,” said Jean B. Finley, an instructor of business computer technologies.
A-B Tech will grade students on how they work with classmates in study groups and interact with instructors in professionally worded e-mails.
The main goal is to encourage students to take personal responsibility and display a strong work ethic, said Melissa Quinley, A-B Tech’s vice president of instructional services.
. . . Quinley said local employers are generally pleased with the technical and academic accomplishments of A-B Tech students. But soft skills can be a problem. For example, she said the college recent held a focus group with welding companies, where some participants said A-B Tech graduates were talented and got the welding part, but that some showed up late for work too often.
Students don’t pick up “soft skills” by osmosis, writes Community College Dean. Teaching students “the rules of the game” is the egalitarian thing to do.
I’ve been to more than my share of employer advisory boards over the last dozen years, at three different colleges. They’re remarkably consistent; every time, the feedback is that we’re doing well with the specific technical skills, but that many students arrive with serious gaps in communication, presentation and general employee conduct.
Students need to understand the importance of punctuality, meeting deadlines and communicating frustration in an acceptable way in the workplace, the dean writes. ”The odd blend of surface egalitarianism and deep hierarchy that defines many workplaces can be a minefield if you don’t know how to read it.”
Years ago, I did a series on welfare reform for the San Jose Mercury News. Two of the long-term welfare mothers we followed found jobs — and ran into trouble because they didn’t know unspoken workplace rules.