Much of the advocacy calling for higher academic standards is funded by large businesses. Examples include:
- The American Diploma Project
- The Parternship for 21st Century Skills (Note: The recent Massachusetts Task Force on 21st Century Skills started with the framework developed by this project.)
- The Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education
However, the direct evidence about what employers are actually looking for in new hires in “good” jobs is mixed. For a relatively moderate review of evidence suggesting that some high school and good work habits may be enough for a good job, see High School Reform and Work: Facing Labor Market Realities, a recent research report from the Educational Testing Service. The most common reason for rejecting applicants, by far, is poor work habits. Lack of basic literacy or numeracy is much further down the list.
There is a fundamental resonance between this more sober report and the 21st century skills advocacy literature: At any level, employers are looking for personal characteristics that go well beyond the book learning available in school. For the highest level 21st century jobs, a broader new literacy is required. And even for the many 21st century jobs that clearly do not require this breadth, good attitude and basic habits are of critical importance. Employers in focus groups for MBAE’s report on work readiness requirements for high school graduatess evoked primarily traditional virtues like “respect” and emphasized the role of experience in developing these traits.