Having low skills in reading, writing, and basic math have always been an obstacle to getting a good job, but the problem is growing as companies go more into using computers and advanced technology.

Executives often discover that existing workers' basic skills are too weak to cope with the change. We are not talking high-tech training; it's grade-school level math and reading that are lacking.This means that a company may have its plans to modernize stymied by the inability of employees to deal with more sophisticated tasks.

Industry is responding in two different ways to this challenge.

One approach is after-hours remedial training. Many big companies have gone into this type of education in a major way because of the critical need for skilled workers as jobs evolve and change.

Few people are exempt. One study shows that by the year 2000 - only 12 years away - three quarters of all workers currently employed will need to be retrained because their jobs have changed in some way.

For those with good basic reading, writing, and math skills, that may not be a terrible problem. The difficulty arises when those basic skills are lacking to start with.

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That leads to a second approach, the so-called "dumbing down" method in which the job is made less dependent on the employee's reading or math ability. This can be very efficient, but it also can eliminate the need for workers to improve their basic skills. In the end, they may find themselves locked into such entry-level jobs, while others advance in the company and society.

Clearly, the best option for young people is to have those skills. This means not merely going to school, but learning the basics while there.

Unfortunately, too many still come out of public schools poorly equipped for life. Officials at Weber State College reported this past week that half the entering freshmen at WSC lack the academic ability to handle college work. Many can only read at the elementary school level. And what about the large number who never apply at college at all?

The message is clear even in a video age, or perhaps even more because it is a video age: Read, read, read. Failure to do so may close more doors than a youngster will ever realize.

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