A Report on Vocational Training in Chicago and in Other Cities

Chapter 11: Attitudes of Business Men

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As a means of getting a basis for an estimate of the output of commercial educational institutions, public and private, of the city, three hundred lists of questions bearing on different phases of the subject of commercial education were mailed to leading merchants, tradesmen, employment agents of the large department stores, railroad offices and mail-order houses.

The replies to these questions contain valuable suggestions as to the quality of work done by boys and girls in offices after they have taken commercial training in business colleges and in public high schools. They indicate in a very emphatic way many defects of the present system of training, both public and private.

Below are given the seven questions, with the replies to them, together with some quotations from the letters received.

1. Do you have difficulty in obtaining efficient clerical or office employees?

86.2 per cent have difficulty in obtaining efficient employees.
11.1 per cent have no difficulty in obtaining efficient employees.
2.7 per cent have some difficulty in obtaining efficient employees.

2. (a) Do you find that the pupils who have taken commercial studies in our high schools are generally efficient as clerical or office employees?

60 per cent reply that high-school pupils are not efficient.
16 2/3 per cent reply that high-school pupils are efficient.
13 1/3 per cent reply that high-school pupils are fairly efficient.
10 per cent reply that they had had no experience with high school commercial pupils.

2. (b) If not, what defects are most striking?

Generally illegible penmanship.

Deficient general education.

Lack of thorough training in English.

Poor penmanship, inability to figure easily and correctly.

Know practically nothing of accounting.


Not thorough in anything.

No foundation. Lacking in the three R's. Need special training.

Lack of thoroughness in their training in penmanship, grammar and arithmetic. There is also much to be desired in most instances in the matter of deportment.

The most noticeable defects are bad penmanship and absolute ignorance of practical business methods. Apparently the high schools pay little, if any, attention to good penmanship, although in the matter of bookkeeping, card-indexing or record-work of any description, the ability to write a neat, rapid and legible hand is a sine qua non. It is safe to say that at least seventy-five per cent of the students who graduate from Chicago high schools are indifferent penmen. It is also noticeable that high-school graduates apparently have little training in the practical details of such office-work as a junior clerk should be familiar with. such as filing, card-indexing, operating adding machines and comptometers, billing, etc.

The very general character of the training received by- pupils in commercial colleges or commercial courses in our public schools renders it difficult for the pupil to apply his knowledge in business, which in practically all lines is highly specialized.

We have tried novices both from high school and business college, but have decided that our work is important enough to pay- some one else for breaking in help.

Several other features are the miserable penmanship, the lack of knowledge of mathematics, or rather lack of knowing how to apply what mathematics they have learned.

With over twenty years' actual experience in hiring pupils from the Chicago public schools, I would say that two of the greatest defects with which we have to contend in this class of employees is the miserable penmanship and lack of knowledge of ordinary arithmetic.

3. (a) Do you find that the pupils who have taken commercial branches in the private commercial colleges of our city are generally efficient ?

80.6 per cent reply that these pupils are not efficient.
16.1 per cent reply that these pupils are efficient.
3.3 per cent reply that these pupils are fairly efficient.

(b) If not, what defects are most striking?

General carelessness, lack of training, lower grade of pupils.

Poor penmanship, inability to figure easily and correctly.

Poor spelling and English.

Bad penmanship, absolute ignorance of practical business methods. The ability to write a neat, rapid and legible hand is sine qua non.

The whole trouble with the business colleges seems to be involved in their academic and dilettante system of teaching, in which apparently not much effort has been made to grasp either the underlying principles or the


essential details of practical officework. The result is that young men come to our company feeling "cock sure" of their abilities after taking a commercial course, but in reality are densely ignorant of the most ordinary duties and routing of officework in a large corporation.

Miserable penmanship and lack of knowledge of mathematics, or rather, lack of knowing how to apply what mathematics they have learned.

The very general character and inefficiency of the training received by pupils in business colleges renders it difficult for them to apply their knowledge in business, which in practically all lines is highly specialized.

Lack of intelligence.

Poor composition and penmanship, poor training and deportment, and lack of knowledge of fundamental principles.

Lack of practical training.

You can not trust them with your correspondence because they are so poor in English.

Carelessness and inattention. A graduate of a business college told me when he had finished the course in banking that he thought he could run a bank, but I soon found that he could not balance a pass-book.

Not thorough in anything.

Insufficient instruction.

Not sufficient time given for preparation. Poor systems.

Good stenographers are in demand at high salaries, but there are too few good ones.

Deficient general education.

No speed and too mechanical.

Lack of general intelligence and mental discipline.

A great many good mechanics are spoiled in making very poor clerks.

Lacking in simple English -construction and composition-and often deceived into taking a course too early when too young and unprepared.

Very deficient, in my experience. Can not spell correctly. Have no idea of good English.

They do not think for themselves - do things too much by rote. There is an appalling ignorance of the " three R's " when they leave school, and most commercial colleges accept them in this unprepared and incompetent condition as pupils. They emerge from these colleges as ignorant of elementary education as they went in, and with merely a cursory, and in a general way hazy, idea, of commercial business usages and customs. The average stenographer and typewriter can not produce from their badly written shorthand notes a correctly spelled or grammatical letter. As to deportment, good manners and polite addresses, these seem to be entirely forgotten and even tabooed.

4. (a) To what extent, in your judgment, would a short course of at least two years in length in the public high school giving a specialized and intensive training in commercial branches (bookkeeping, stenography, English, penmanship, etc.) help meet the demand for efficient employees in clerical and office positions?


In my opinion, such a course would be very valuable if administered under the supervision of experienced, broadgauge men of affairs, who are thoroughly familiar with modern business practice and conditions. Under these conditions the sooner the boys and girls can be started on such a course after completing their grammar-school education, the better, as it will save them from wasting their time on other high-school studies of conjectural value.

To a great extent, if general and widening knowledge can be secured in conjunction with the practical application of special knowledge.

I am convinced that thousands of children are handicapped in their start in life because their schooling is neglected in English, language and composition, including spelling, letter-writing and simple bookkeeping, and because the age for leaving school and considering their schooling finished is too young.

The course should include penmanship, arithmetic, English (including spelling and business composition, the latter of a character tending to develop individual thought and expression and not along stereotyped forms), commercial geography, particularly that of the United States, which would include the topography, geology and agriculture of the various States, as well as their boundaries, principal cities, etc., together with a study of their waterways and other means of transportation.

Commercial work has become so specialized that, in order to obtain a position at a fair rate of pay, it is necessary to handle the work from the first day of employment. A high-school graduate very rarely can write well and fast enough, and is not capable of handling figures or any class of clerical work as well as a young man who has had two years' training on that particular line of work.

This course should be provided during the first two years of high-school work, rather than in the last two, for the reason that a much smaller number of pupils could take advantage of training relegated to the last half of the four-years' course, and the ones who drop out at the end of the first two years are the ones who most need and would most benefit by such an opportunity.

Why can not there be a four-year commercial course with the work so arranged that if pupils wish at the end of two years to go to work, they will be fitted for something, and the latter part of the course so arranged that it will give a somewhat broader business preparation to those who remain ?

Very much. Add to these efficient training in addition, subtraction and multiplication, with the understanding that graduates are qualified to start at the bottom only. If carefully and efficiently administered, this would be an excellent foundation for a commercial career.

It should help, provided the work were based on actual business, and under the charge of experienced, not theoretical, teachers.

4. (b) Would it be advisable to place such a course in the first two years of the high-school curriculum?


73.2 per cent think it would be advisable to place such a course in the first two years of the high-school curriculum.
26.8 per cent think it would be advisable in the last two years. The explanation of these percentages has been given under 4 (a).

5. (a) Would your business be materially benefited if your clerical and office employees had the advantage of a broader commercial training than is offered it: our public high schools or private commercial colleges?

98 per cent reply that a broader commercial training than is offered in the public high schools or private commercial colleges would be of material benefit to business.
2 per cent reply that it would not be of material benefit to business.

(b) What suggestions would you make for such training in our public high school?

Probably 90 per cent, at least, of the product of our school system look for clerical positions first, and only go into the other lines of work when forced to do so by necessity. This would be very laudable if they were all fitted for that class of work, but as a matter of fact a great many good mechanics are spoiled in making very poor clerks. Employ teachers who are experienced men in the line of work they are teaching, and train pupils for that line of work for which they are suited.

I do not believe that a commercial course in all public high schools would prove a benefit, but would rather suggest the placing of these branches in three centrally located high schools-one on the North Side, one on the West Side and one on the South Side-where commercial branches would be taught by qualified teachers, and the course specialized by teachers who had no other duties than those of the commercial course to perform.

Would it not be advisable to institute separate classes for pupils intending to enter commercial life directly from high school along the lines as suggested in your question No. 5 (c) ?

Business courses based on business method should be given by instructors who know business methods.

A letter filed in the wrong place or an envelope misdirected means a loss in time and money. Teach carefulness to boys. Stronger commercial courses in high schools. Public school commercial training in Chicago is a failure because it lacks system, time, force and leaders.

Broaden and intensify the course.

Emphasis on necessity of good writing, mathematics and speed. Also importance of developing reasoning faculty so that the pupil knows the why, with the object of acquiring ability to master new situations without help. Flake minds instead of machines.

Establish a separate high school of commerce.


Would suggest a course distinctly commercial.

Pupils should be taught to think for themselves. Initiative needed. Get live, practical instructors and insist on thoroughness.

Specialized high school of commerce. Four-year course.

Church schools and private business colleges need supervision -need to be standardized. Is it not public schools that must set this standard in our city? I believe we need a State Educational Commission that is nonpartisan and undenominational, one that would be able to report on the conditions of the private and church educational institutions, and set a standard for the teachers and for the school curriculum.

5. (c) What is your opinion as to a central high school of commerce for such training, the chief idea being to train young men for competitive opportunities in business?

83 1/3 per cent reply that it would be a good thing. 
8 1/3 per cent reply that they are doubtful as to its utility. 
8 1/3 per cent reply that they have no opinion.

With efficient instructors and sound organization such a school would be a great benefit.

All young men and women need it.

The commercial interests of this great city deserve such a step.

Good idea. Such a school should be kept open at night. It would be a great help to those who go to work young and fail to get the high-school work.

Good. A much-needed change.

It should also give opportunity for training young women.

It would be one of the grandest additions to education which Chicago has ever experienced. Such a high school should provide a four-year course.

There is no doubt that it would be a vast benefit to the commercial interests of Chicago. I believe, however, that in the operation of such a school the pupils' preference and adaptability should be carefully considered; that the school should be operated along the lines of " specialty," and that the pupils should be fitted for work in the particular line they are found suited for.

I am not prepared to answer this.

A central high school of commerce, if open to all grammar-school graduates, would be of great value if it could be kept free from educational fads and devoted to business methods. Such a school, to fully accomplish its purpose, should be under the control of practical men of affairs; its teachers should be men of actual business experience in their several lines, and the school should be conducted as a large business institution, with office hours, rules and general methods of procedure identical with those of any large corporation.

A fine thing, if advantages of high school and commercial college are combined, doing away with the vagueness of the one and eliminating the crudeness of the other.


It would seem to me that the central high school for pupils taking a commercial course would be a more practical way of handling the proposition than in the various high schools. If so, would it not be possible to have a night school in connection, for the benefit of young men who are employed during the day time, and possible to have the day pupils attend the night courses during certain periods and have a general exchange of ideas among the two classes of pupils?

6. Do you think that a free employment bureau, organized for the benefit of the pupils of public schools, fitted for clerical and office work, would be an advantage to business men?

84.4 per cent think that a free employment bureau would be an advantage to business men.
9.4 per cent think that it would not be of advantage to their business.
6.2 per cent say they don't know or have no opinion.

An employment bureau of the kind you suggest would be very helpful to employers, and with the pupils' daily records to refer to it should be possible for employers to get from such a bureau young men who had proved their efficiency, not by having earned a diploma, but by having earned high marks daily for promptness, courtesy, diligent attention to studies, earnestness of purpose, as well as the passing of an examination.

Yes. The pupils attaining the required degree of efficiency could be bulletined at the state employment bureaus, as well as at the various commercial and industrial clubs, so that any of the interested members could make their selections from these lists. Those interested in the welfare of the proposition could very readily tell within a short time whether the experience was an advantage or otherwise.

Many business men with whom the writer conversed said that they would be glad to utilize a number of efficient pupils during the summer vacation, while their regular employees were off on vacations, but that they had no means of finding such persons directly, or determining their standing and efficiency. The possibilities of using the suggestions herein set forth as a school incentive are worthy of careful consideration.

7. It is manifest, that to fulfill their best purposes, the commercial departments of the high schools of Chicago should keep in constant touch with the business world and advance with the evolution of mercantile development. What methods can you suggest of promoting such a relation between them and the business interests of the city?


Have practical commercial men in the directorate and as teachers-their tenure of office dependent on results.

Have the pupils, under guidance of teachers, visit large offices for study of special systems - such visits being previously arranged for.

A central high school of commerce devoted to the work and enjoying the counsel and attention of an advisory board of business men.

Arrange to have a study made once each year by heads of departments in the commercial schools, of business methods of representative business houses in Chicago.

A committee should be appointed by the educators of Chicago to meet with a committee of business men from the various branches of trade. This combined committee should investigate the needs and suggest a high-school course which will prepare young men and women to meet the demands of the commercial world.

It would seem to me that it might be possible to arrange such connection with the best high-school students in commercial courses on the one hand, and commercial houses in the city on the other, as is now in existence between certain students in the Lewis Institute with manufacturing establishments. These students spend part of their time in the school classes and part of their time in active work in the factories. In this way theory and practice go hand in hand, as they should.

Have teachers acquainted with the practical needs of business institutions; those with actual business experience which has reduced theories to actual working plans.

Lectures from practical business men would help, and also if large commercial houses could be induced to employ help from the schools for short periods of time during the rush season, allowing the pupil to return to the school when the rush is over. This would give practical experience and would enable the pupil to also obtain a little idea of what course should be followed in study.

Have representatives of high schools learn from employers of pupils reasons in each case for pupils failing to "make good." Then generalize results and correct methods in use.

If the commercial departments of the high schools of Chicago are to be kept in constant touch with the business world in order to advance with the evolution of mercantile development, one of two things would seem to be necessary: (1) Either the teachers should themselves take a post-graduate course, or make some arrangement whereby they may familiarize themselves with actual business conditions in some of our large business institutions; or (2) they should be replaced by people who have had such business experience and who are thoroughly familiar with the process of evolving competent clerical help from raw material. If the teachers in the commercial departments could attend a series of lectures, to be given by prominent business men and experts in various commercial lines, I believe such a course of lectures would be of inestimable benefit in directing the attention of these teachers to the really important and vital qualifications that should receive particular emphasis in any course of commercial instruction.


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