'Average' Workers Plague US Businesses: Execs Survey

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Even as the private sector adds jobs, many U.S. executives claim their workers are average at best when it comes to critical thinking, creativity and communication, according to a new survey. A growing number think their employees are below average when it comes to those job skills.

Executives say they are disturbed by this trend at a time when employees need to keep up with a changing business world that demands a more skilled American workforce to make quick and decisive choices.

The survey by the nonprofit American Management Association found that more than half the nearly 800 executives polled, contend their employees need to vastly improve in areas of communicating, problem solving and thinking creatively on the job. (Read More: Private Jobs Continue to Show Growth)

What's missing from workers, executives said, are highly developed skills in making decisions, the ability for workers to transmit their ideas in written and oral form, being able to collaborate with co-workers, and the foresight to be innovative and make something happen when action needs to be taken.

Meanwhile, the number of executives polled who think their workers are way below average on these skills has increased by up to 19 percent in such areas as creativity and collaboration from a similar survey in 2010.

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"The emphasis over the past years has been on high tech skills like math and science for workers, but what's missing in the discussion is the ability to communicate and make key decisions at lower levels," said Ed Reilly, CEO of the association.

"Companies are reducing their levels of management and as a result are pushing their employees to make decisions that can have a big impact," Reilly said. "Those people seem to be hard to find."

Reilly said U.S. businesses are looking to streamline their management style in order to be more competitive on a global basis. That means being quicker, faster and having more flexibility from product idea to production to customer sales.

"Management is not going away but they need more leaders at lower levels, and that means working together and being able to communicate ideas in a clear and better way," Reilly said.

And he said that the survey results show a major sea change for workers and businesses is in the making, if it hasn't been already.

"Ten or 15 years ago, these types of skills were not in high demand. Now they are," Reilly said.

To meet the new demands, he said, companies are searching for and training people who can lead. And the U.S. education system is slowly trying to adapt by having students work on their collaborative and communication skills in class.

The point of early education is highlighted in the survey, where executives—by a 2-1 margin—said they believe it is easier to develop these types of skills in students and recent college grads than it is to develop them in experienced workers.

Reilly said the best way to find the right employees in this new wave of thinking may be focusing on something executives say is missing in today's American worker— good collaboration.

"Companies can train people and the schools can start emphasizing the right classes for getting those skills," Reilly said. "They both need to work together to get this done."

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