Surveys Show Employers Don’t Think College Grads Are Prepared for the Workforce
Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on June 18, 2015 at 12:09 pm
Despite spending at least four years in college, many students are graduating without the skills necessary to land a job. Since colleges and universities aren’t preparing the nation’s graduates, many students are finding that they have to do it on their own.
College is supposed to be the pathway to the American dream. However, many graduates come out of school with huge student loan debt and few job prospects. With new grads struggling to find work, some are left wondering if their college degree was worth it at all.
The answer, it turns out, depends on whether or not they obtained the necessary skills to get an interview with an employer, let alone a job.
“The bar is being raised for the breadth of skills students need to hit the ground running,” says Debra Humphreys, vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “The higher education system hasn’t completely caught up to this.”
Consider this: according to a January survey of employers conducted by AAC&U and Hart Research Associates, while companies endorsed broad learning and skills that cross different disciplines as the best preparations for a successful career, employers gave graduates low grades in the necessary skills to land a job. Of the employers surveyed, 58 percent said improvements are necessary to prepare students for success in entry level positions, and over two-thirds said more needs to be done to prepare students to move up the corporate ladder.
More evidence of the issue? Consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that 40 percent of employers said they can’t fill entry level positions because students lack the proper skills.
Employers want graduates to have real-world skills
So – what are employers looking for that college graduates aren’t bringing to the table? According to the AAC&U survey, it’s not the actual degree but the skills picked up along the way, including written and oral communications, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, critical thinking and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings, that matter the most.
Colleges and universities undoubtedly carry part of the blame for the unpreparedness of their graduates, but some of it falls on companies as well. Just a few decades ago, employers were willing to invest a lot of money in their employees to ensure they received the proper training to perform and move up in the firm. In return, companies got loyal employees who would spend their careers in one place. Now, employees – especially millennials – tend to switch jobs after three to five years. As a result, companies aren’t as willing to invest in training. And if students aren’t getting those skills on their own time, their resume ultimately ends up at the bottom of the pile.
Students have to be their own advocate
In a perfect world, colleges and universities would provide curricula that ensures skills that go beyond individual majors. However, since study after study shows that’s not the case, students need to be their own advocate to make sure they are getting the right education to be marketable to companies when they graduate.
During their school years, that means taking advantage of internships, alumni networking and career services to get real world experience. In the past, internships were all that was needed, but even that can’t guarantee the proper skills or training anymore.
“Internships are always the solution people talk about again and again, but the one challenge is often times they aren’t very structured,” says Rya Conrad-Bradshaw, vice president and managing director at Fullbridge US. “Not all internships are good.” While you can’t guarantee that by being choosy you’ll land an internship that will give you hands on experience, you can use even a bad internship to get an idea of what an office setting is really like. It also doesn’t hurt to volunteer if extra work or projects comes your way.
Experts point to alumni networks as another way to make sure you are gaining the right skills. They also say not to overlook the career centers at colleges and universities, which can at the very least help you prepare your resume or improve your interviewing skills.
In addition to taking advantage of internships, experts say students have to make sure they are taking classes outside of their major – and not just one of two. For example, Humphreys says that if you are pursuing a technical degree, you should make sure to take writing and communication classes as well. If you are majoring in liberal arts, on the other hand, then you should also take enough technical classes to ensure you have a good understanding of technology.
Boot camps are another way to get much needed skills. Fullbridge, for example, offers week-long to month-long boot camps designed to bridge the workplace skills gap by teaching people the skills, attitudes, confidence and direction they need to succeed in today’s work environment. Conrad-Bradshaw notes that any real-world experience you get working at a part-time job can also help you get necessary skills, and should also be highlighted on your resume. For example, if you have a retail job, focus on your ability to communicate with customers and keep them happy.
“You have to worry a bit less about whether your specific major will lead directly to a job, and a little bit more about whether all the experiences you are having in college is adding up to a portfolio of skills and abilities,” says Humphreys.