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NEW YORK/(BUSINESS WIRE) -- The debate over what kind of workplace the U.S. education system should be preparing today's students for appears to be over.

According to a new survey commissioned by Bayer Corporation and in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, the newest employees in America's workforce and their managers say that today's worker needs special skills to manage continuing change in the workplace. Both groups agree new employees need to be flexible and adaptable, able to solve unforeseen problems and do their best work in teams. They differ primarily over how well equipped new employees actually are with these skills and how well their education has prepared them for their jobs.

Moreover, both groups are concerned students in school today may not be adequately prepared for tomorrow's job setting and predict they will face increasing competition for jobs from countries where citizens have stronger science and math literacy skills.

Those are among the central findings of The Bayer Facts of Science Education VII: The State of America's New Workforce, which uses the perspectives of both employees and managers to assess how well U.S. education has prepared the newest generation of American workers for the work environment.

According to the survey, when asked to select which one of two contrasting skills employers value more in new hires, both new employees and managers chose being able to:

-- "solve unforeseen problems on the job" over "refer unforeseen problems to others;"
-- "adapt to changes in the work environment" over "cope with a stable work environment;"
-- "do their best work in teams" over "do their best work independent of others;" and,
-- "continue to expand skills as the company changes and/or grows" over "refine and master in more depth the specifics of their present job."

"It's clear that today's workplace is no longer our father's workplace," said Rebecca Lucore, executive director, Bayer Foundation. "When asked to choose, new employees and managers, both men and women, consistently selected the skills that are most commonly associated with 'working smart,' over the more traditional 'working hard' kind of skills."

However, despite seeing eye-to-eye on these valued skills, the new employees and managers differ as to how well equipped with these skills new employees really are. While both groups believe new employees have the skills, new employees are most likely to call themselves "very well equipped," while managers are most likely to call new employees only "somewhat equipped." The same kind of discrepancy emerges regarding how well new employees' education equipped them with these skills, with new employees more positive than managers.

Youth = Enthusiasm; Age = Wisdom

Throughout the survey, new employees' strongly positive opinions are consistently tempered by a positive, but more realistic viewpoint on the part of managers. For example, the large majority of new employees feel that their education prepared them well to be successful in their present and future jobs (84 percent), had a positive impact on their job search (82 percent) and provided them with the opportunities to get the job they wanted (81 percent). These opinions are held by new employees regardless of their age or sex, or the type or size of company for which they work.

While the majority (79 percent) of managers agree that students' overall education has prepared them for future workplace success, they do not agree about the progress education has made overall in preparing students for their jobs over the last five years. For example, 45 percent say it has improved, 37 percent say it has stayed the same, and 15 percent say it has diminished.

When both groups were asked how well the new employees' education prepared them for the workplace, new employees consistently assign elementary, middle and high school a "B" grade, compared with managers who give each education level a "C." Managers who work in the fields of science, technology or medicine tend to be more negative about the quality of education in terms of workplace preparation.

When asked which school subjects best prepared them for the workplace, new employees rate English/reading/ writing, math and science, in that order, as their top three subjects at each grade level - elementary, middle and high school. Yet, when they were in elementary school, the majority of new employees (53 percent) report that science was given less priority than the other two top subjects and nearly two-thirds (61 percent) say that they were taught science mostly the "old fashioned way" -- using textbooks, memorization and lecture -- rather than through an inquiry-based, hands-on method of experimenting, hypothesizing and testing conclusions.

"This survey's findings that today's workplace values problem-solving, critical-thinking and team-working reinforces the conclusion that students need to learn science in the kind of experiential, hands-on way that helps to develop these 'working smart' skills," said Curt Suplee, director of the National Science Foundation's Office of Legislative and Public Affairs.

New employees and managers agree. A majority (74 percent new employees; 68 percent managers) believe science literacy -- that is, a general knowledge of science, math and technology in order to understand information, think critically and solve problems -- is important for success in today's workplace. Nearly all managers (93 percent) and new employees (88 percent) feel the most effective way to learn science is for students to conduct hands-on experiments, form opinions, and discuss and defend conclusions with others. Also, a strong majority (84 percent new employees; 70 percent managers) believe that science education should be given the same or greater priority than reading, writing and math at the elementary school level.

"The overall message that emerges from the survey is that when it comes to preparing students for an increasingly competitive workplace, the U.S. education system gets a passing grade. According to managers, it is doing okay -- not great and not terrible," said former astronaut Dr. Mae C. Jemison, who now serves as a Dartmouth College professor and science literacy advocate for Bayer's Making Science Make Sense initiative. "But the question becomes: Is 'just okay' good enough for the United States in a global economy? Is it good enough to sustain our scientific and technological edge in the world?"

The Future of America's Leadership in Science and Technology

The answer clearly is no, according to the survey respondents. While new employees (81 percent) and managers (79 percent) both believe that the U.S. will maintain its global science and technology leadership position over the next 25 years, 88 percent of both believe that that leadership will be challenged by other countries. As a result of other countries having stronger science and math literacy skills, most managers (85 percent) and new employees (84 percent) believe U.S. students will face increased competition for jobs from students who live in those countries.

And, two-thirds of each group believe that as a result of performing substantially below other leading countries in math and science in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), today's U.S. students may be inadequately prepared for the future workplace.

Do today's new employees think they would have gotten better jobs if they had taken more math and science courses? A little more than half of the managers (52 percent) and a little less than half of the new employees (42 percent) say yes. More than six in ten of the new employees (65 percent) advise today's students to take more science classes, and more than eight in ten (88 percent) advise them to take more math classes.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through programs that invest more than $4.5 billion per year in almost 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering. The mission of the NSF is to "promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; and to secure the national defense."

(c) 2001 Business Wire

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