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Business leaders lack confidence in recent graduates

Employer survey says flaws include substandard literacy, work-ethic issues. Economy also holds back additional hiring.

Oct. 21, 2012

Local voices in business speak on topic

“We have been very successful with recruiting and promoting from within and then training our own folks. We found that if we would hire someone with technical skill from Cape Coral or somewhere, they would leave us as soon as they found something closer to home.”

Tristan Chapman
General manager, Southern Gardens Citrus

“We have very diverse hiring needs and for some things the local market is adequate and for others we’ll have to work to import talent. Our local hires tend to be older because they have brought their skill set to Florida from elsewhere.”

Kevin Hawkesworth
CEO, Shaw Development

“I think we spend way too much money on the bureaucracy in the schools and the administration and not nearly enough on the teachers. We are spending an inordinate amount of money on things that don’t benefit the students.”

Paul Woods
CEO, Algenol

“We have had some real difficulty locating experienced technicians for ophthalmology in the Fort Myers and Naples markets. That’s been going on for five to seven years. So, we developed a training program where we can bring people in who are unemployed and train them.”

Connie Lewis
Practice Administrator, Snead Cataract

“There is a significant lack of negotiation skills in the workforce today and it just isn’t being taught in the schools. I just don’t understand that. Everything in business, and in life, is a negotiation.”

Bob Simpson
CEO, LeeSar


Southwest Florida business leaders still lack confidence in high school graduates and are less certain in the overall economy than a year ago, according to an online survey distributed earlier this month by The News-Press.

The survey questions mirror those in a survey taken a year ago in advance of the inaugural Market Watch Education Summit, but additional questions were added concerning recent internship and teacher/business partnerships.

About 41 percent of the business leaders who responded to this year’s survey said graduates of Southwest Florida high schools are adequately or well-prepared to fill their workforce needs, up from about 40 percent a year ago. About 31 percent of respondents said local high school graduates lack basic skills, compared to 14 percent a year ago.

The confidence in local college and university graduates also slipped, with about 69 percent saying those prospective workers were at least adequately prepared, down from about 72 percent a year ago.

Cathy Irwin, human resources director for the Lee County Electric Cooperative, said the organization frequently hires high school graduates for its customer service division and they are generally well prepared.

“They still go through three to six months of training once we bring them on,” Irwin said.

Paul Woods, CEO of Algenol Inc., said resumes from high school and college graduates sometimes make him cringe because of misspelled words and grammatical errors.

“Some are truly awful,” Woods said. “If they can’t take the time to get that right, how can I hire them?”

But Bob Simpson, CEO of LeeSar, said he is more concerned about a lack of work ethic and drive among younger workers. They seem interested in simply collecting a paycheck, he said.

“I tell people, ‘You don’t just get a job, you get a mission,’” Simpson said.

But it isn’t mainly the quality of high school and college graduates keeping businesses from hiring more. About 60 percent of respondents said the general economic climate was holding them back, up from about 51 percent a year ago. About 31 percent said economic concerns specific to their industry dampened hiring, comparable to about 30 percent a year ago.

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About 9 percent blamed a mismatch between skills they need and the skills available for a lack of hiring, down from about 15 percent a year ago.

About 41 percent of employers said the local workforce meets their needs, up from about 25 percent a year ago. However, 28 percent of the employers said more bachelor’s or graduate-level degree programs could better help them meet their needs, up from about 15 percent a year ago.

For positions that require more education, such as engineers, Irwin said LCEC frequently must recruit from outside the area because local degree programs either don’t exist or aren’t well established.

“We recruit nationally when we need to, but we would love to recruit locally if we could,” she said.

Woods said he must recruit globally, especially for the molecular biology positions in his research and development center off Alico Road.

“If you aren’t a world-class molecular biologist, I’m not hiring you,” Woods said.

Almost 69 percent of the employers said they agreed internship programs can help strengthen the local workforce and 75 percent said they agreed bringing more teachers in to learn from businesses would be helpful.

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