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Skilled workers in higher demand

May 19, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - In 1956, 60 percent of American workers held unskilled jobs. By the year 2000, unskilled workers will comprise just 15 percent of the labor force, said Carl Ford, coordinator of the School-to-Work program for the Tuscarora School District.

Ford said the demand for skilled workers is growing all the time.

"Employers need smarter, more flexible workers who can perform a wide variety of tasks," Ford told about 15 educators and area business owners assembled Thursday for the last school-to-work meeting for the academic year.

In 1956 there was no demand for workers with computer skills. Ninety percent of workers will need some knowledge of computers by the year 2000, Ford said.

"By the year 2005, one out of three college graduates won't be able to find college-level jobs," he said. High wages and economic security will go to skilled workers. There will be less demand for general college graduates, he said.

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Already, he said, about 33 percent of the students who attend community colleges for specialized training have college degrees.

"Not all teachers are aware of this. They are still pushing students to go to college," he said.

He said the goal is not to dumb down the educational system. Students still need academic instruction, but they also need more technical training.

The school-to-work program, designed for high school seniors who have completed most academic requirements, gives students job experience.

Several area business owners at the meeting said many young people who apply for jobs at their companies have no work experience, and some can't do the simplest math or read instructions on job applications.

Susan Snider of Snider's Elevator Inc. in Lemasters, Pa., said some who have applied for jobs were unable to fill out W-2 tax withholding forms.

"Some didn't even know the county or township they live in," she said.

Chris Lombardozzi, owner of American Stair and Cabinetry in St. Thomas, Pa., said he has had success with most of the students from Franklin County Area Vocational Technical School that he has hired. Others, he said, couldn't write complete sentences.

Lombardozzi said he used to hire students "by instinct." Now he calls their teachers to check things like grades and attendance records.

Several employers said they also have turned away applicants because of their appearance. They cited examples of body jewelry, extreme hairstyles and baggy pants worn so low that underwear is exposed.

"They tell us that while they're in school they want to be themselves at this age, that they'll change when they look for a job," Ford said.

Students don't think their schooling applies to the outside world, another educator said.

Ford said students enrolled in his program are better prepared to enter the work force now than they were five years ago.

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