Employers: Meet Your Sorry Workforce

August 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Fools of Finance

work_robotIf you are a business owner needing employees with intelligence, buy a robot.  The news on the human side is not good.

According to the latest data from our friends who administer the ACT and SAT testing programs, our families and schools are breeding students who are steadily moving from dumb to dumber. For many of them, any task more complex than sending a text message may be too much.

To summarize from the report:

Average scores for the class of 2009 in critical reading dropped to 501 from 502, in writing to 493 from 494 and held steady in math, at 515. The combined scores are the lowest this decade and reflect stalled performance over the past three years. The reading scores are the worst since 1994.

Keep in mind that these are the same high school graduates that our President wants to send to college – all of them – at taxpayer expense. Yet ACT testing revealed that only a quarter of 2009 high school graduates are actually prepared for college work.

The SAT performance data is actually worse than it looks. To coddle the feelings of disappointed parents and educators, in 1995 the SAT folks “re-centered” the SAT test scoring, effectively adding 60-70 points to all of the scores. So compared to students in earlier generations, today’s average high schooler hasn’t demonstrated an aptitude for learning much of anything of value to an employer.

So what should we do? First, take the smartest kids and teach them how to design and program robots.  Teach the rest of the kids how to build, clean and maintain the robots. Then assign the robots to perform our most important jobs. That might give us a fighting chance at surviving in a competitive world.

But what will we do? Complain that standardized tests are meaningless and unfair, continue grade inflation at all levels to maintain student self-esteem, and populate our colleges and workforce with folks who acquire and retain most of their knowledge from Facebook, Twitter and TMZ.

And our leaders think that climate change is the biggest threat to our collective futures?

Photo credit: Macinate

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24 Responses to “Employers: Meet Your Sorry Workforce”
  1. goldenrail says:

    Dear Mr. TML,
    I had to burst your robotic bubble, but your plan might need some tweeking. According to physicst Michio Kaku, sophisticated robots that can replace humans are a long way in the future. It’s extremely difficult to program robots to do things that humans do instinctevely, such as navigate a room without crashing into everything.
    Of course we know there are plenty of things robots and computers can do, but there’s still plenty they can’t. No Jetson-styled Rosies yet. So we still need human janitors, althetes, laborers, and others whose work requires movement.

  2. M says:

    @goldenrail: you might want to have your sarcasm detector calibrated.

    This is why I fear the schism between the haves and the have-nots will continue to widen. We’re heading for “Atlas Shrugged” here and it won’t be too many years before I’m ready to “go John Galt” on the world.

  3. goldenrail says:

    My sarcasm calibrator broke in law school 😉

    I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged (have always been a bit afraid of Ayn Rand), perhaps I should check it out sometime.

  4. I am pounding on this everywhere I go, but I think summer vacations are too long and kids lose too much over that time. Malcolm Gladwell makes a compelling argument that this is the case.

    My youngest brother is going to a math and science camp for high school students next summer that includes a car building competition. I’m planning on sending my kids to those camps every summer. That should also give them a competitive advantage when it comes to robot building;)

  5. Gail says:

    The scores as certainly dismaying, especially given the fact that SAT tutoring (and high school tutoring in general) has become such a big business over the past decade…

  6. cjbr549 says:

    My opinion is that the kinder, gentler child rearing and teaching methods are partially to blame. That and parents who just don’t care what kind of education their children get. I know if I brought home a bad grade in grade school or high school, I would get my butt whipped. In college I was paying my own way so a failed class meant not only a hit to my GPA (which would of course lower my odds of getting a job) but I would also have to pay to take the class over. Also, I worked a several very hard labor jobs. Proper motivation goes a long way towards learning :). That being said, I think allot more people are taking the SAT now and quite probably many don’t have any business going to college. I also saw in that report that kids who’s parents make over 200k tended to do better on the test and that provoked some to wonder if the test benefited people with more resources. Duh!! Of course it does. I would just like for someone to explain to me how you come up with a college entrance exam that doesn’t favor people with more resources? It’s not possible. I am not too discouraged, there still seem to be allot of bright young engineers coming out of the colleges (that’s mostly the specialty that I work with). I am sure we are still producing great doctors, lawyers and underwater basket weavers as well.

  7. My Journey says:


    You are crazy. Simply put, its not fair. EVERYONE knows that:
    – The SATs are racially biased, despite relying on logic;
    – Not enough money is going to fund children’s education, despite property taxes rising exponentially in the past 30 years;
    – Every kid is special and equal , despite clear evidence that some children swim deeper in the genetic gene pool;
    – NO kid should ever fail because failing a child is mean.


    Also, didn’t it seem that the robot in Rocky IV was pretty damn advanced and that was 20 years ago….I am hearing a republican conspiracy to keep immigrants down working slum jobs that Paulie’s Robot could be working on! lol great post

  8. Bucksome says:

    I think you’re being a little too tough on the young generation. It’s not that they’re not intelligent, it’s that expectations for them have been lowered.

  9. TMN says:

    TML: You are, as usual, full of shit. If you’d bothered to spend 5 minutes looking at the source for the data you’re bitching about instead of regurgitating the WSJ you’d have read the glaringly obvious note that explains that all the numbers being reported are adjusted to the recentered scale. So your claim that the scores are “even worse than they look” is flat-out wrong. Looks like last generation’s math and critical reasoning skills need a little refresher course.

    And re the earlier comment about “going Galt”. Please, do so. I promise you, if you’re naive and egotistical enough to think you’re that independent and that important, you will not be missed.

  10. Mneiae says:

    As a kid from the class of 2009, I really want to say that support for education isn’t a bad thing. While some of the people in college with me don’t really belong in college, there is nothing wrong with educating people who do worse on the SAT than previous people. The SAT does not measure IQ anymore, so it is ridiculous to think that my grade is more stupid than any other grade. Perhaps we were less prepared to take the standardized test; there are many reasons for those numbers to come out the way they did.

    @cjbr549 Nobody should want to perpetuate a cycle of violence. I enjoyed school and it sounds like you did not. People attend class instead of skipping when they enjoy learning.

    And in response to your quip about robots: No way. I am in the top .5% of the nation intelligence wise but I have absolutely no desire to work with robots.

  11. MasterPo says:

    CJ – 100% agree. Well said.

    Todd – Good for your family! Keep at it. Historically those with an education always do better over the course of their lives than those without. I have a nice nest egg put aside for my kids education. MIT here they come!

    My Journey – You’re a walking cliche. Here’s a quarter, but a clue.

  12. Paul says:

    There seems to be plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence that students preparing for college can’t do math anymore. I am always astounded that my mother (who last took math in 11th grade) still remembers how to factor polynomials, yet none of the freshmen in the calculus class I teach can say the same.

  13. MasterPo says:

    My Journey – Sorry, my bad. Didn’t see the sarcasim note. But it’s all too true what some people think.

  14. My Journey says:


    I wanted to know how angry the comment got you before you realized the “/sarcasm” lol

  15. Emily says:

    I have first hand experience at just how well these kids are being prepared for college and/or work…and they’re not.

    I like your idea.

  16. jojomon says:

    Just my two cents. To a degree it is rather amazing that the scores have dropped with all of the prep courses out there and the people taking them. However, I think that there are a lot of students taking the tests that would not have taken them several years ago when one graduated high school and either went to a trade school, the military or a factory job. With the decline in decent paying factory jobs and our priviliged society feeling we are all to good to do manual labor, the pool of college bound students has greatly expanded and thus has been diluted. Certainly not the majority, but a lot of these kids probably have no business going to a college or university and will soon discover that after wasting their own or the government’s money. I feel that the numbers of those folks has increased and they are dragging down the average.

  17. Lurker Carl says:

    Many college students are not college material. Freshman enrollment in remedial math, writing and reading courses offered by most colleges and universities tells the real story. Garbage in, garbage out.

    Most white collar folks don’t realize that blue collar workers need considerable smarts in reading, writing and math as well. That explains much. Garbage in, garbage out.

  18. MasterPo says:

    I think Lurker and Jojo have it right.

    Many many many moons ago a kid in HS was tracked to a white collar path or a blue collar vocational path based on the overall view of his scores throughout school. Sure it was a guess, but what did educators have to go on if not school grades?

    Somewhere a long the way the usual bleeding hearts and do-gooders cried it wasn’t fair, it was discrimination, it’s racist, every child deserves a chance, blah-blah-blah.

    So the focus shifted from giving low grade students real, marketable blue collar skills to doing anything and everything to get them to take SATs and go to college even if they weren’t college material. There’s nothing evil or shameful about being a successful plumber, electrician, mechanic etc. The world certainly needs those too!

    But no. Every child has the potential to be a brain surgeon. And has the *right* to try to the fullest to be it. At least that’s what the philosphy is now.

    Problem is, by the time it is blaitantly obvious to even a blind man this kid can cut a sandwich at the most years and years and years (and tens of thousands of $$$) have gone by. Now the kid has no skills, no skilled education, is probably rather disheartend and even turned off the concept of getting an education or training, and probably would now scoff at the idea of being blue collar when for years he (or she) was told to aim for college.

    So now the kid (now a young adult) works for $9/hr at Wendy’s and is mad at the world.

    Gotta love good intensions.

  19. Rick Beagle says:

    I blame agendas, and parents. My children are expected to get 4.0s, and you can not believe the grief I get from all sides from insisting that they work their butts off to achieve that goal. Parents have become too soft toward their own, but seem to have endless amounts of energy to complain about everything under the sun. If we have failing students, look no further than the parents.

    Rick Beagle

  20. Lurker Carl says:

    Very interesting article, Rick. Millions of kids dream of becoming a star athlete but few make the cut. Sports experts are a dime a dozen yet don’t have the basic education necessary to make a living beyond flipping burgers or selling refrigerators. Why add a sizable number of young Texans to that pool?

  21. Terry Pratt says:

    Cool, my combined SAT scores were above 1300. Where do I sign up?

  22. {sarcasm generator off…} Truth to tell, many more people take the
    SAT now than did when scores were consistently higher. Just about everybody needs some college training, and many people who are unprepared for college-level work recognize they could earn more with a four-year degree.

    Soooo…. what we have here is a mob of unprepared students who previously could have made an adequate living in the trades or by working their way up the corporate ladder from the mail room, all of them applying for state universities that require the SAT or ACT. And that does tend to push scores down. Then because we sure wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, we get the PC idea to push the scoring system downward.

    @ Mneiae: The SAT never measured IQ. Like all academic achievement tests, it measures cultural capital. Many people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds are low on cultural capital but not necessarily on smarts.

  23. Mneiae says:

    Actually, Mensa begs to differ. I acknowledge that it doesn’t measure IQ directly but Mensa said that it correlated.


    These are the test scores necessary for membership:
    SAT prior to 9/30/74 1300
    from 9/30/74 to 1/31/94 1250
    after 1/31/94 N/A
    From the footnote: N/A

    These tests no longer correlate with an IQ test. Note that the acceptance date applies to the date you took the test, not the date you join Mensa. You can still join Mensa by using older scores.

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