Education/garcia/37″/dt1st/mark2nd PRODUCTION NOTE BULLETS By SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Some years ago, financial consultant Ken Benson tried hiring high school graduates for part-time telemarketing jobs. He gave them a desk, a phone and a script, and let them have at it. Before long, Benson realized that his workers, typically junior college students looking for some extra money, were not following the script. Sometimes, in fact, they were downright rude. “They were all high school graduates, and that’s what scared me,” said Benson, who now volunteers his time to help prepare students for the world of work. “They were so far out of their element. Their world is so different from the world of business.” Employers have for some time complained about the lack of preparation students receive for their future careers, but now they are doing more than just complaining. In recent years, businesses have been taking steps to remedy the problem, through such means as developing in-house remedial training programs, participating in mentoring and shadowing programs and partnering with schools and other agencies. Consider some of the most recent developments: ? Panorama Mall, in partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District, is offering an internship program in combination with classroom training. ? Bank of America has a partnership arrangement with Los Angeles Valley College to train entry-level employees in customer service and other skills. ? The Glendale factory of Nestle S.A. gives its 500 employees paid time off to volunteer at area schools. ? Membership in the Southern California regional branch of Junior Achievement, a privately funded organization geared to teach students about business, has doubled in recent years to include 4,000 business executives who teach and mentor students. “Employers are spending tens of thousands of dollars training and retraining employees who should have gotten the training in school,” said Jarod Kawasaki, regional manager of Junior Achievement in Southern California. “They’re not finding qualified applicants.” According to most employers, the gap between what businesses need and what LAUSD turns out has widened considerably in the past five to 10 years. Though there are no surveys that detail the job-readiness of high school graduates, human resources professionals and others say they’ve observed an alarming increase in the number of poorly qualified job applicants. Many entry-level workers cannot spell or compose a proper sentence on their job applications, and they often fail basic arithmetic tests. One major San Fernando Valley employer noted that 60 percent to 70 percent of the candidates who apply for entry-level positions fail basic math and English tests administered by the company. It’s not uncommon to hear stories of high school students who can’t read, said Rudy Rodriguez, public affairs specialist at State Farm Insurance Cos., which runs adopt-a-school and shadowing programs and participates in Junior Achievement activities. When Rodriguez asked a class of eighth graders to read from a manual Junior Achievement prepares on marketing, many refused. “After class, the teacher walked up to me and said, ‘I don’t make them read. I usually just read to them,’ ” Rodriguez said. “A lot of these students didn’t know how to read in the eighth grade.” Problems like these are not isolated. Los Angeles Valley Community College and others report that they have been forced to increase the number of remedial classes to accommodate all the students who need them. “I think, clearly, students are not coming out of high school with the level of English and math skills they did in previous years,” said Tyree Wieder, president of Valley Community College. One reason, say educators and business executives, is the increase in the number of non-English-speaking immigrants in the school system. According to the LAUSD, 27 percent of the high school students in the district are labeled “limited English proficient.” Other shortcomings in the potential workforce transcend class or ethnicity lines. Employers say many candidates come to interviews inappropriately dressed for the workplace, and they demand jobs rather than try to sell themselves for a position. When they are hired, employers say, many fail to take responsibility for their jobs. They are quick to blame others when things go wrong, arrive late without explanation, and are unwilling to submit to a chain of command. “I’m not blaming the kids,” said Ric Hill, vice president of corporate relations at 20th Century Insurance Co. in Woodland Hills. “I think kids are doing what they believe is acceptable because it’s what they’re allowed to do.” Employers point out that as long as teachers show up for work dressed in casual attire, students will see nothing wrong with wearing ripped jeans to job interviews. As long as they are permitted to use slang in the classroom, they will bring those speech patterns to the workplace. As long as children are raised with many of life’s luxuries handed to them, they will expect that the world owes them a living. To counteract these influences, the Panorama Mall in January is expanding an internship program it has offered for three years. The mall, in partnership with the LAUSD, is building an employer-financed learning center where high school interns will be schooled in presenting a professional image, taking responsibility and other civic issues, as well as economics. “In the internship program, they learn the tasks,” said Garrett Craw, educational development consultant for the LAUSD. “But if they don’t have a sense of responsibility it will all break down.” Craw says the program will teach students how they fit into the bigger picture, both with respect to their employers and the economy at large. In addition to classes on imports and how they affect the local economy, the center will teach students what it means, for instance, to let a co-worker’s theft go unreported. “We’ll teach them that shrinkage has a broader effect. It can even affect an employer’s ability to hire people,” Craw said. So far, some 30 employers are signed on for the program, including merchants with stores in the mall and companies in the surrounding area. Craw expects the learning center to be completed in January. Similar training courses are underway at 20th Century in Woodland Hills, where classes help new employees with English as a second language, handling conflict and listening effectively as well as issues of corporate culture such as understanding the chain of command. Company executives say it’s not uncommon to encounter new employees who think supervisors who tell them what to do are infringing on their rights. “A person may pass a certain threshold for hiring, but need additional work to smooth the rough edges,” Hill said. Other programs, such as the training provided under the Junior Achievement program, focus on teaching students about economics, under the assumption that even those with good academic ability are often missing a solid foundation in the free-enterprise system. “So many schools are so caught up in these standardized tests,” said Kawasaki of Junior Achievement. “It’s difficult for a teacher who is being pushed to teach testing techniques to link the classes to how you’re going to use math or English. That’s why we bring volunteers into the classroom.” Junior Achievement volunteers teach weekly classes covering personal finance, marketing and global economics, among other things. Employers are increasingly offering time off to employees who wish to volunteer for this program, as well as others geared to training students. Nestle allows its employees to volunteer two hours a month on company time in some 34 adopted schools. The company also has a Pen Friends program in which students correspond with employees as a way to learn communication skills. “The thinking is, if we can impact the students early on, it will stay with them until they graduate,” said Gene Boykins, vice president of strategic staffing services and education programs at Nestle. State Farm first became active in several of these programs 10 years ago, with about 43 employees volunteering their time. By 1996, that number had increased to 110 employees, and currently there are 300. “Managers are encouraging employees to volunteer, and our employees, as parents, are aware that schools aren’t preparing students as well as they used to,” Rodriguez said.