Spent the day yesterday on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Crookston in my capacity as a nursery owner who sometimes hires UMC graduates--or at least interns.

It was a day where area business and agency leaders advised people at the college on what they value in UMC graduates, and what they would like to see in potential employees.

Interesting. What we told the academics is pretty much that content isn't as important as character. The issues which came up? Integrity. Honesty. People skills. Ability to deal with older people. Punctuality. All the old-time virtues.

Computer skills are important--UMC students are very familiar with a computer because of the requirement that they all have a laptop, and that gives them a leg up at jobs. Of course, I recently wrote a column blasting in-class computer use as counter-productive--however, there is no doubt that familiarity with a computer is pretty important.

The bottom line: Business people want their new employees to hurry up and grow up, and there is simply no way of teaching that directly. I tried last fall while teaching to get people to show up on time, show interest, not cheat, and so on--but whoa, when you have 18-year-olds (some of whom are very mature, by the way--but they don't get noticed), you are swimming upstream to get them to see the importance of doing all the things their grandma told them to do. No, they are at a time of life when they are experimenting with their freedom.

Teaching character is the toughest job of all, but it is the most important. You probably won't see the results right away. You just have to plant seeds in their minds which might later take root, to employ an overused cliche.