Current Data on Entering the Workforce Without Critical Skills Valued by Employers

The good news:  yes, the U.S. economy is stronger and continues to add new jobs [in very strategic sectors] at a steady rate each month.  The bad news: stories continue to appear which highlight the dis-connect between employers and students as to whether or not they (students) enter the job market with the type of skill sets they need to be hired (and this mis-match of expectations is wider in specific technical fields such as STEM). For example, see Jeff Selingos’ recent piece in the Washington Post on “Why are so many college students failing to gain job skills before graduation,”

What does not always appear in the collective statistics in surveys such as those cited by Selingo, is that the dis-connect is far wider by race, class and ethnicity. Rarely, for example,  do surveys include any data on Native American students.

This is a complex issue because we also do not always know which employers are included in particular surveys (which sectors do they come from & who is responding:  CEOs, HR managers).  I did find it of interest that the January, 2015 survey Selingo cites, by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, “Falling Short: Selected Findings from Online Surveys of Employers and College Students,” , includes data from a reported 400 executives at both private-sector & nonprofit organizations (rarely covered in such reports) and 613 students from both two & four-year institutions.

Here are a few findings I find are especially significant:

  • Nearly all employers (96%) agree that, regardless of their chosen field of study, all students should have experiences in college that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own, including 59% who strongly agree with this statement.
  • The majority of employers think that having both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge that apply to a variety of fields is important for recent college graduates to achieve longterm career success at their company.
  • Large majorities say they are more likely to consider a job candidate who has participated in an internship, a senior project, a collaborative research project, a field-based project in a diverse community setting with people from different backgrounds, or a community-based project.
  • When it comes to considering a job candidate, employers value completion of an internship or apprenticeship most among the applied and project-based learning experiences tested.  Nearly all employers say they would be more likely to consider hiring a recent college graduate who had completed an internship or apprenticeship, including three in five (60%) who say their company would be much more likely to consider that candidate.
  • The majority of employers feel that colleges and universities must make improvements to ensure graduates’ workplace success. Fully 58% think improvements are needed to ensure that graduates gain the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in entry-level positions at their company, while 42% think they are doing a good job.  And an even larger proportion (64%) think that improvements are needed to ensure that graduates have the skills and knowledge needed to advance within their company.
  •  Many employers feel that college graduates are falling short in their preparedness in several areas, including the ones employers deem most important for workplace success.  College students are notably more optimistic about their level of preparedness across learning outcomes, however. 

The company conducting the AACU survey above is the DC-based Hart Research Associates. They’ve been conducting similar surveys of employers and students for many years , however, given the new level of competitiveness facing college graduates since the recession, these are very important findings to pay attention to.

We’ve got to do a better job of educating students about the facts surrounding types of learning and applied experience will enhance their employability after graduation.  It’s not a secret as the above survey confirms!  Nor should the data points be kept from parents who, of course, play a paramount role in the decisions made by their children while in college.  And it is they who have a high stake in the outcome of the job search undertaken by their children  – and in how campuses prepare them to enter the workforce.


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