NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Business Trains Illiterate Workers

April 29, 1997

Businesses are increasingly obliged to take up the burden of teaching workers reading and basic math -- a tragic legacy of a failed school system. Many employers are asking why education should be their role and responsibility.

  • Citicorp Savings Bank of Illinois several years ago reported having to reject eight out of every ten applicants for entry-level positions because the prospective employees could not read their application forms.
  • In a 1993 survey, the American Management Association found that 36 percent of job applicants had trouble reading or doing basic math.
  • A 1995 survey by Training Inc. magazine established that 43 percent of companies offered remedial instruction in the broadest sense, while 22 percent offered training in basic skills such as reading, writing, math and English.
  • The private sector and federal employers are estimated to have spent a combined $55.3 billion -- or $300 per employee -- on all training costs in 1995, according to the American Society for Training and Development.

Experts in the field say that government remedial programs often experience a 50 percent drop-out rate because enrollees lack incentives. Job training offers the incentive.

  • It has been estimated that 46 million U.S. adults are illiterate, but only 9 percent avail themselves of adult education programs.
  • The Clinton administration wants to spend $394 million in fiscal 1998 for adult education -- up 30 percent from $304 million spent in 1993.
  • There are already about 160 work-oriented training and education programs at the federal level.

But experts point out that states still are responsible for curricula and teaching, and it is in the states where literacy campaigns will be won or lost.

Meanwhile, businesses are continuing to pursue partnership arrangements with states and schools, such as:

  • The AT&T Learning Network, a five-year, $150 million commitment to bring the company's products to every public and private school in the nation.
  • Efforts by the New Jersey Department of Education and several business groups to develop model curricula for local school districts, and the New Jersey Tech Corps founded by major employers to assist schools.
  • The founding of a non-profit group known as Achieve -- a joint project of IBM's chairman and Wisconsin's governor -- to provide technical information to educators.


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