Alarming reports of worker incompetence range from math and reading to high-tech competence, from basic reliability to aptitude in fundamental reasoning.
Everyone - including workers - loses. Many firms reject up to 75 percent of job applicants as unqualified, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
So employers are increasing training programs and closing a training gap between management and hourly workers, says Earnest Deavenport, chairman of the NAM in Washington.
Businesses favor a range of remedies:
* More money for training by companies, from the current 2 percent to at least 3 percent of payroll.
* More school reform by private groups and government, from incentive pay for teachers to charter school initiatives.
* Consolidated government training programs.
Two trends - empowerment and spreading technology - demand that workers across the job and pay spectrum constantly upgrade their skills.
"The Industrial Age is not over, and the Information Age is upon us. So more and more people need higher skills and an ability to quickly adapt to the demand for new skills," says Curtis Plott, president of the American Society for Training and Development in Alexandria, Va.