As college students graduate in May, they may find that the degree they worked so hard for won’t be enough to land a job. In today’s competitive job market, students are fighting for the same jobs that experienced workers are seeking as they re-enter the job force. Employers are concerned that graduates don’t have the skills necessary to secure and keep a job.
Are graduates qualified?
In a study released last fall by Chegg entitled “Bridging That Gap: Analyzing the Student Skill Index,” it appears that more students are struggling to find their place in the workforce. They surveyed 2,001 students or recent graduates—18- to 24-year-olds—and 1,000 hiring managers. Fewer than two in five hiring managers who had interviewed recent graduates in the past two years found them prepared for a job in their field of study.
When researchers spoke to the students and employers, they found some interesting insights:
Students put more importance on the name of the institution listed on their diploma, versus an employer’s view of the importance of school prestige. A full 45 percent of students, from schools across the nation, believe a degree from a prestigious school is very or extremely important to make them more attractive to employers. By contrast, only 28 percent of hiring managers found this important. This 17-point gap creates a false sense of disadvantage in students from less-prestigious schools and misleads prestigious schools’ students about how far school status alone will take them.
Students have an even more inflated sense of the traction personal connections will give them. More than three-quarters of surveyed college students, 77 percent, believed professional or personal connections in their field of interest were important for securing a job. Thankfully, employment opportunities aren’t based exclusively on “who you know”– only 52 percent of hiring managers agreed that those connections are very or extremely important for a graduate to land a job in their field of study.
Who is responsible for bridging the gap?
This study reaffirms the importance of internships and outside learning to help students apply their classroom education. In addition, to bridge that 17 point gap, experts believe colleges should concentrate on making the learning more experiential. Colleges should also step up to the plate and provide a form of “on-the-job” training, allowing students to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it in the workforce or in a program resembling the workforce before graduation.
Some colleges, like Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts, have been working to bridge that gap over the years. Their on-campus trading room helps students learn about the ins and outs of the stock market and financial trading. Additionally, all seniors are required to take a class where they research and create a business plan for a real-world company, seeking to expand or increase their business. Programs like these help prepare the student for to enter the workforce with knowledge and experience of how things work outside of a college environment.
[Volunteering can provide high school and college students with real-world, working experience.]
Which skills are graduates missing?
After surveying employers, the study concluded that there were even wider gaps on about a dozen different skills:
Students and employers consistently disagreed on how prepared new graduates were to employ a dozen different “business basics.” Those include “creating a budget or financial goal” and “writing to communicate ideas or explain information clearly” (each show a 22 percentage-point gap), and “organization” (25 percentage points). In the widest gap, at 27 percentage points, 77 percent of students but only half of hiring managers reported preparation for “prioritizing work.”
Students fared the best at “making a decision without having all the facts.” About 47 percent of students said they were prepared to do that, and 37 percent of hiring managers said the same of recent graduates.
Which degrees fared better than others?
The survey found that employers believed that students with majors in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) were slightly more prepared that their peers with liberal arts degrees. Employers found that these students had skills that better prepared them to explain information and solve problems. If a student is pursuing a liberal arts degree, he or she should make sure that their education is supplemented with real life experience.
[Find a summer program in STEM today.]
These findings contain lessons for both students and the college themselves. Both parties need to make sure that their curriculum or college major, respectively, aligns with the way companies work today. The information from this study should prompt colleges of all different types to find new and better ways to prepare their students for careers after graduation. Conversely, students should be aware of these skill gaps and seek to supplement their resumes with internships and real-world learning experiences.