The ability to hire qualified and prepared workers has a tremendous impact on the ultimate success of any business. The converse is true, as well. When a business hires a person who doesn’t have the necessary skills for the job, that hire invariably results in significant costs to the business in terms of turnover, remedial training and reduced efficiency.
I learned two surprising things about hiring during my 17 years in retail, 11 of those at Dollar General Corp. The first is that all retail employees, even the ones in entry-level positions, must be proficient in the basics of math and literacy and be able to process and effectively use information and data as they go about their work. For example, Dollar General store employees must be able to read and implement complicated merchandising plans and operating procedures; understand financial goals and calculate their performance against them; and communicate effectively — with customers and with headquarters here in Tennessee.
The second thing I learned is that finding large numbers of employees with those basic skills is not an easy task for employers today — even in this time of high unemployment.
Why is that? Simply put, a high school diploma is no longer a guarantee that a graduate will be successful in the modern workplace. Instead, we are graduating students from our public schools without ensuring that they have basic math and literacy skills as well as the ability to critically process and use data to solve problems.
Not only have we failed to correlate the requirements for graduation to the needs of the working world today, but we also have been operating without a shared set of standards across states. Employers cannot be certain of the basic skill set they are getting when they hire a high school graduate.
That is why I am so encouraged about the work to raise the bar for our students by implementing the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations for math and English language arts that are designed to ensure our students graduate from high school prepared for the demands of college or the modern workplace.
Our educators, parents and administrators have been hard at work implementing these standards for the past three years, and their work has paid off with historic academic gains. This improvement will help take the guessing game out of the hiring process for employers in our state and, ultimately, make Tennessee more attractive to new employers.
Higher academic standards should not be about politics. Now is not the time to undo the hard and thoughtful work that our state has done to improve the education we provide. It is too important to the economic vibrancy of our state and we owe it to our students to give them the public education they deserve: one that prepares them for the modern-day workforce or for continuing their education in college.
ABOUT THE AUTHORSusan Lanigan retired as executive vice president, general counsel of Dollar General Corp. and is a member of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.