FARMINGTON — Many local people applying for jobs in San Juan County are under qualified, unprofessional and deficient in writing, spelling and math, according to a Farmington Chamber of Commerce Education Survey.
"There's nobody to blame," said Audra Winters, chamber president and CEO. "We just need to fix the problem, if there is a problem."
The chamber sent the survey to its members in early October to understand where its education committee -- a branch of the chamber -- can focus its efforts. The chamber has 525 members, most of which are businesses-owners, and 53 responded. Many said job applicants lacked needed skills.
The Daily Times recently acquired a copy of the survey, which had four questions.
One asked members if job applicants are qualified and possess "entry level skills," such as writing, spelling and math. Only one out of 13 listed responses said most applicants are qualified. Another said half are insufficient. The remaining responses were overwhelmingly negative.
Another question asked if applicants are professional and dressed appropriately during interviews. One said half are professional. Another said the business' out-of-state hires are professional. The rest of the 11 responses were negative, with one responding, "If you call jeans appropriate."
The third question asked if applicants have adequate work experience or general knowledge for the job they are applying to. Two responded positively. The other five were negative.
Ray Hagerman, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, an organization dedicated to stimulating the area's economy, said the survey's results are representative of job applicants county-wide.
His organization began a campaign this summer, and since September it has met with 40 companies that employ at least 50 people, he said.
"What was found is that of the 40, there are about 400 jobs available, but they can't find qualified people to fill the jobs," he said.
It's a common issue, he said. That's why Hagerman said his organization became involved with ACT WorkKeys, a skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train and retrain employees.
Four Corners Economic Development is establishing a taskforce to address the problem.
The fourth question in the survey asked how the chamber and its education committee can help find qualified jobs applicants. Of the 19 responses, one said, "I don't think it is possible."
But 17 other responses to the question were constructive, and Winters is optimistic.
"There's resources out there," she said. "It's just getting them out so people know where to go to find them."
San Juan College's Office of Quality Improvement and Career Center is one resource, she said, and Skill Ready Four Corners is another.
Tonya Nelson, director of the Career Center, said some applicants who don't get the jobs may not know why. She said some answer cell phones mid-interview. Others have spelling errors on their resumes, she said.
The center offers free training seminars open to the public on resume building and writing, job searching, completing online job applications, interviewing and overcoming a "not-so-perfect past," according to a list of activities scheduled from February to May. Attendance varies, Nelson said, but sometimes more than 30 people are in a class.
The center also targets area students in eighth, ninth and 11th grades, an attempt to help future job seekers gain needed qualifications and learn professional behavior, she said.
For eighth graders, the center hosts a "Reality Check" workshop, which emphasizes the connection between education and monetary success. At least 70 percent of the students interviewed after the class remembered that a high school dropout on average earned less than $23,000 annually, according to the center's data.
The ninth-grade workshop encourages students to prepare for college, a career or both.
The 11th-grade workshop outlines soft skills, such as dressing for an interview, sending emails or presenting a good attitude.
According to the center's data, 1,391 eighth-grade students attended the "Reality Check" workshop this year.
Pruda Trujillo, education committee chair and owner of Farmington's Sylvan Learning Center, said outreach like the center's workshops help students see the relationship between education and their future. And that's important, she said.
"You can't just graduate from high school now and expect to be OK," she said, adding that even garbage men and women today need a high school diploma.
The solution, she said, will require a coordinated effort from the Four Corners Economic Development taskforce, the college's career center, employers and many others. It's the community's problem, she said.
"We have to understand that the area workforce is our workforce," Hagerman said.