Do Today’s Grads Have the Skills They Need?

Careers
Posted By Terri Williams on October 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm
Do Today’s Grads Have the Skills They Need?

More employers report recent grads are prepared for the workplace with the skills they learned in college.

Within the last few years, the workplace has changed dramatically. A global economy has increased the level of competition among companies, technological advances have changed how companies operate, and just in sheer numbers, millennial and Gen Z workers have changed the workforce itself.

Recent research has revealed that employers are lamenting the lack of qualified job applicants. For example, a survey by Robert Half and the Institute of Management Accountants found that finance and accounting grads lack big data analysis skills.

And in a survey conducted earlier this year by the Bridge team at Instructure, college graduates thought they were unprepared for the future.

However, attitudes may be shifting. A new Bentley University study of employers, educators, current students, and recent grads had a more positive outlook:

  • 78% of employers feel that recent graduates are prepared for pursuing a career after college.
  • 65% of students and recent graduates feel that they are prepared for pursuing a career after college.
  • 90% of employers believe that students have the necessary skills to succeed in today’s job market: the ability to work collaboratively, critical thinking, and written and verbal communications skills.

Also,

  • 75% of educators place a greater emphasis on outside-of-the-classroom learning and field work.
  • 73% of educators focus on group projects that promote teamwork and collaboration.

What Has Changed?

When Bentley conducted this survey just three years ago, the results revealed that college grads were not entering the workforce with the skills needed to succeed in their first job. In fact, grads were given a grade of “C” by employers and recruiters.

However, Gloria Larson, president of Bentley University, tells GoodCall that in the last five to 10 years, dramatic shifts have been occurring both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Traditionally, college courses have been based on a lecture format, but emerging technologies and job market trends have led to broad curricular changes and a move to what we refer to as ‘the extended classroom,’” she says.

Larson says most of the educators in their survey have moved toward an approach that combines classroom work and fieldwork – and technology is also given a more prominent role that it played five years ago.

“More colleges and universities extend learning beyond the classroom by stressing the importance of internships and utilizing programs like service learning and study abroad to teach students the critical thinking and leadership skills they will need post-graduation,” Larson says.

Job market trends and new emerging technologies are helping to shape curriculum changes.

“And corporate immersion courses have brought companies into the classroom to work with students on very real and current business initiatives, allowing these students the opportunity to ‘test drive’ their knowledge and skills,” Larson says.

For the next generation of graduates to succeed, Larson believes schools must embrace extended classrooms.

“A college education that includes real-world experience best prepares graduates for the workplace,” she says. “It’s not where you go to college, it’s how you go to college.”

But some doubt results

However, not everyone agrees that the gap has been closed so quickly. Dr. Bror Saxberg, chief learning officer at Kaplan Inc., tells GoodCall that he’s skeptical there has been much movement in this area over the past three years.

“In my experience leading learning engineering efforts at Kaplan, I’ve heard from employers that they’re still finding students unprepared for real work,” Saxberg says. “In addition, there’s enormous variability across higher ed institutions in how students are prepared for work versus simply guided to achieve a degree.”

Since definitions and requirements regarding competency can vary greatly – even within the same organizations – Dr. Betty Vandenbosch, president of Kaplan University, believes it may be difficult to obtain an accurate snapshot of employer views. Vandenbosch also says educators are usually slow to respond to changes.

“Creating a new course, let alone a new degree, takes years at many institutions,” she says. “And while most professors can revise a course they teach whenever they feel like it, many simply don’t feel like it as often as industry requires.”

The survey also revealed that companies and educators vary in how much they weigh certain skills. For example, 55% of educators believe critical thinking is one of the most important traits in entry-level employees, compared to just 37% of employers. Also, when asked what they thought college grads lacked the most, employers chose business/professional courses, relevant technical courses, and more work or internship experience.

Educators also chose business/professional courses, but their second and third highest-ranked choices were more public speaking opportunities and more team projects.

According to Vandenbosch, “Universities and employers need to work together to arrive not just at the competencies and soft skills that are necessary for success, but they should also agree on which competencies can and should be taught, and how they will be assessed so those assessments have currency in the job marketplace.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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