As a business owner I’m always watching the economic environment, the changes that are taking place in our culture, and how it might affect our future strategy and plans. I also keep an eye on trends in the next generation as there are times when we interview persons from that age group.

About 2 years ago, my then 18 year old daughter worked for me (she’s since moved on). I’ve had my kids work for me from their teen years on, with tasks that include trade shows, sales, shipping and receiving, light marketing, and making trips to China, in order to instill a solid work ethic in them, expose them to the business world, and help them relate to and work with adults.

One day my daughter was joking around with me, and asked if I knew what a quadratic formula is. I had no idea what a “quadratic formula” was, which prompted a conversation as to whether what she learned in school was going to benefit her in today’s workplace.

Not long after, I had my daughter quote a customer a discounted price, and asked her to deduct 20% to come up with the number. She didn’t know how to deduct 20%. How is it that my daughter, who we sent to a private school, know what a quadratic formula is, but not be able to do a simple math function like deducting a simple percentage?

At first I thought maybe she might have just checked out when it came to paying attention at school, except, they learn basic multiplication in elementary school, and presumably, can’t graduate to “quadratic formulas” in junior high or high school without passing tests proving that they have basic math down.

But then a friend of mine, who is a math tutor, told me he sees the same thing all the time with kids coming out of school who don’t know how to use basic math that is needed in the real world. Another friend whose son went to the same high school as my daughter said her son didn’t know how to balance a checkbook.

I hear complaints from other employers that it’s difficult to find employees who possess a solid work ethic, and have basic common sense these days. Something is missing at our schools.

I think we need to reverse-engineer today’s schools, that is, have the schools talk with businesses and find out what they’re seeing in today’s graduates, compare it against what today’s employers want in the way of basic skills and work ethic, and then rebuild the curriculum around these findings.

The days of read a text book, memorize, and take a test being valuable to the average employer are over. To many employers, high level education – quadratic formulas – are of less importance than a solid work ethic, flexibility, street smarts, knowledge of the basics, and the want and hunger to learn new things. I can teach an employee how to use software or do certain tasks, but they have to bring the right work ethic to the table – and I surely don’t want to waste time telling a new hire how to deduct 20% off of a price of $2.29.

photo credit: ssilver