More midsize U.S. companies are turning to automation because of a perceived decline in the American worker's competence, according to a survey of top executives.

The survey queried the 100 members of the American Business Conference, a Washington-based trade group of midsize, growth companies like underwear-maker Fruit of the Loom Inc. and cable television's USA Network.Only 34 percent of the 70 officials responding to the survey late last year said they believe American workers' competence has improved in the past decade. Forty-one percent think worker competence has declined.