TRENTON, N.J. — American workers worry U.S. high schools are doing a mediocre job preparing young people for today's work force but say colleges do somewhat better, according to a national survey.

Workers also rated computer and specific occupational skills as far less important than general talents, including critical thinking, basic literacy and numeracy, and communications ability, according to the Rutgers University-University of Connecticut study.

Traits such as a strong work ethic, integrity and sense of individual responsibility were rated very important by nearly twice as many respondents as were computer skills.

"A 25-year-old expressed the same values as a 50-year-old" on which skills determine workplace success, said Carl Van Horn, a Rutgers public policy professor and director of the university's John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development.

The center designed and co-directed the telephone survey of 955 working adults and 59 job-seekers nationwide, which was conducted in May by the University of Connecticut's Center for Survey Research and Analysis. The results, released Monday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for the study, "Making the Grade? What American Workers Think Should Be

Done to Improve Education."

At least three out of four surveyed said these steps would help: mandatory high school exit exams, yearly math and reading tests of third- through eighth-graders, mandatory internships for high school students and business involvement in shaping the curriculum.

Even though many companies complain their growth is limited by a lack of skilled workers, U.S. work force training trails efforts in other leading democracies, according to the report.

Among the survey respondents, 40 percent said U.S. high schools earn only a "C" in preparing students for workplace success. Only 5 percent gave high schools an "A;" 32 percent gave a "B."

Colleges and universities were regarded as doing a better job, with 16 percent giving them an "A," 54 percent a "B" and only 20 percent giving a "C."

Steve Farkas, director of research at the New York nonpartisan public policy group Public Agenda, said Tuesday that its annual surveys of employers and college professors show both groups believe young people coming to them "don't have the skills to succeed."

Other national studies of employers and state academic standards similarly have found that high school graduates, who account for about two-thirds of the work force, are inadequately prepared for the work world or college. Last year, a coalition of business leaders said more than 10,000 U.S. employers would request job applicants' high school records because of concerns about the skills gap.

In the new study, on-the-job training was rated effective by nearly three times as many people as formal education, and most people said responsibility for preparing students for work primarily lies with parents (45 percent) and students (18 percent), not high schools (9 percent) or colleges (11 percent).

The Heldrich Center develops strategies to improve worker skills, help companies compete and improve the work force development system, often through partnerships with private business.

The Center for Survey Research and Analysis has done about 70 surveys for the public and private sectors. Together, they run the "Work Trends" series of public opinion surveys, which has examined issues such as balancing work and family, the working poor and job security.

The latest study will be distributed to government, business and labor leaders, the media and others, Van Horn said.