U.S. Jobs and the Middle Ground Between McDonald's and Microsoft


Just last week, I blogged about AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson's contention that the telecommunications giant was having trouble finding enough warm bodies with the right qualifications to fill U.S. technical support positions, jobs AT&T announced in late 2006 that it was shifting from India back to the States.


During a recent presentation at a business event in Texas, Stephenson mentioned that AT&T found that, in some areas, high schools had trouble graduating even half of their students. I mentioned that the overall U.S. high school graduation was generally accepted to be about 70 percent -- not that this is a number of which to be proud. Yet it turns out that, if anything, Stephenson's estimate may have been a bit optimistic. A study by America's Promise Alliance, which focuses on issues of children's education, safety and health, found graduation rates ranging from 25 percent to 77 percent in America's 50 largest cities.


The study, which is based on the Education Department's graduation data from 2004, illustrates an alarming gap between graduation rates in cities and suburbs. In a dozen cities on the list, the gap exceeds 25 percentage points, reports USA Today.


Maybe AT&T needs to follow the lead of some other companies and look to areas outside of large cities for its potential hires. Northrop Grumman and Dell are among U.S. companies establishing some operations in small American cities as offshore alternatives.


The performance gap between cities and suburbs is "unacceptable, especially now that 90 percent of our fastest-growing jobs require education or training beyond high school," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings tells USA Today. Gee, you think? As I blogged in August, an increasing number of U.S. companies want even assembly-line workers to have computer skills.


Much of the debate over immigration reform, including the hot-button issue of whether the U.S. should award more H-1B visas, revolves around either high-end positions that require an advanced education or the kinds of menial jobs often filled by folks without a high school education (including illegal aliens). People often seem to forget that there are lots of jobs in the middle of the scale, such as the types of positions AT&T is trying to fill.


Many folks don't have the inclination or the financial resources to attend college. They need to know that if they apply themselves in high school, they can still get a decent entry-level job -- albeit not one where they can expect to make six figures.


Wrote an IT Business Edge reader in response to my blog about AT&T's difficulties:

I know a lot of people don't like it, but mentally, in this country, we've become lazy. There is a higher dropout rate than what was the norm when I graduated 15 years ago. People are smart, but without even a high school diploma, how many companies do you expect to call you back for an interview?