Press Release

America’s Promise Alliance Research Finds Majority of Young People Are Not Prepared for the Workforce

Results Show Youth Are Lacking Critical Interpersonal Skills Necessary for Success

ALEXANDRIA, VA –The America’s Promise Alliance (the Alliance) today released “Under-Equipped and Unprepared: America’s Emerging Workforce and the Soft Skills Gap,” which finds that America’s young people do not have the “soft skills,” such as teamwork, conflict resolution, communication and leadership, that are necessary for success in the workforce.

The brief focuses on 15-17-year old students, who are nearing the end of high school and preparing for either post secondary education or the workforce. They were asked about the strength of their soft skills and the opportunities to acquire them. The results show a significant number of American students are not only lacking these skills, but also the opportunities at school, home and through real-world skill building activities to learn and practice them. Although these deficits are evident across all demographic groups, the Alliance found greater disparities in some of the skills for those children living in low-income households, who have parents who did not complete high school, as well as among African-American and Hispanic students.

The brief is based on a new analysis of the Alliance’s 2006 research study, Every Child, Every Promise: Turning Failure into Action (ECEP) which was the first nationwide report to measure the presence of the Five Promises in the lives of America’s school-age children (ages 6-17). The Five Promises are the key developmental resources—caring adults; safe places; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others—that young people need in order to succeed.

“This issue is incredibly important because our nation is often so fixated on academic outcomes and test scores that we are shortchanging our young people when it comes to the equally important skill set of being able to work with one another and communicate effectively,” said Marguerite W. Kondracke, president and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance. “Without these skills our next generation will not be able to sustain the ever-changing and increasingly competitive American workforce. The severity of these findings provides a stark reminder that our nation’s prosperity is at risk.”

Soft Skills Deficiencies:

  • Fewer than half (46 percent) of 15-17-year olds surveyed felt they communicated well with others. African-American youth were more than twice as likely to report poor communication skills as their white peers.
  • Only 22 percent of 15-17-years olds said they felt very empowered to help make decisions in after-school programs, whereas 35 percent responded that they never or only sometimes were allowed to make decisions.
  • 61 percent of 15-17-year olds reported they often or very often practiced conflict resolution while working in teams in schools (62 percent in after-school programs), leaving more than one-third of students without these important opportunities.
  • Between one-fifth and one-quarter of African-American, Hispanic and students from lower-income households felt they were not or only somewhat comfortable with basic computer tasks like word processing and presentation preparation.
  • One encouraging finding was reflected in regards to working with diverse groups—only seven percent of teens said they either somewhat or do not get along well with diverse groups of people. 
  • The gaps ECEP identified in soft skills sets were also found when examining the opportunities for students to learn or practice these skills during and after school.


In school opportunities:

  • Two fifths of 15-17-year olds reported that none or only some of their teachers gave them challenging schoolwork and only 43 percent believed their homework was meaningful and applicable to the real world.
  • Nearly 80 percent surveyed reported that they work up to their abilities more often than not with a significantly higher rate of African-American students (44 percent) reporting “very often” doing this as compared with their white peers (29 percent).

After-school opportunities:

  • 69 percent of 15-17 year-olds surveyed said they spend no time working at a paid job. Of the 31 percent with paying jobs, half work fewer than ten hours per week.
  • 64 percent of students surveyed said they have never had an internship arranged by their school or after-school program.
  • Only 18 percent of youth reported volunteering weekly and 41 percent monthly.
  • 39 percent said they help with family chores like housework or taking care of a sibling two-to-five hours per week and 24 percent reported helping for more than five hours per week.

“Corporate Voices is interested to see such a strong correlation between the findings in our research report, “Are They Really Ready to Work” and the results of the America’s Promise issue brief of youth voices on workforce readiness,” said Donna Klein, President and CEO of Corporate Voices for Working Families. “As both reports indicate, the lack of attention to applied skills such as communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills leave high school graduates ill-prepared for the demands of the workforce. Who would have guessed that corporations and kids would be so aligned on what young people need to succeed? This is a powerful partnership that reinforces a new message – academic proficiency is simply not enough in the 21st Century.”

The entire “Under-Equipped and Unprepared: America’s Emerging Workforce and the Soft Skills Gap” brief, including corresponding data tables can be found on the Alliance’s web site at: www.americaspromise.org. The Alliance collaborated with the Search Institute, Child Trends and the Gallup Organization on ECEP.

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About the America’s Promise Alliance
America’s Promise Alliance is the nation’s leader in forging a strong and effective partnership alliance comprised of corporations, nonprofit organizations, foundations, policymakers, advocacy and faith groups committed to ensuring that children receive the fundamental resources - the Five Promises – they need to lead successful, healthy and productive lives and build a stronger society. Building on the legacy of our founder General Colin Powell, the Alliance believes the success of our children is grounded in experiencing the Five Promises - caring adults; safe place; a healthy start; an effective education; and opportunities to help others - at home, in school and in the community. For more information about America’s Promise Alliance visit www.americaspromise.org.