Something appears to be broken in a crucial aspect of our economy: the transition from college to the workforce.
Last week, Bentley University unveiled its PreparedU study of how millennial workers perceived their place in the workforce. Among the most surprising of the findings: More than 60 percent of recent graduates said they were not very well prepared for their first jobs.
Now a separate study from Bellevue University adds more fuel to the fire. Among its findings: one-third of Americans with degrees say their education didn't help to prepare them for their job, and about two-thirds of people who are not pursuing a degree said they don't feel college adequately prepares people for the workforce.
The long and short of it: There's a disconnect between what students expect from a degree, what education offers, and what the workforce demands.
Dissecting the Disconnect
It's pretty unlikely that you'd find a college or university that says it doesn't want to prepare students for the workforce. Schools work with local companies. They encourage internships. They're trying--but it's a balancing act.
Debates have gone on since the 1970s (at least) about whether education should be vocational or exploratory. Universities were not conceived as employee factories, but as centers of knowledge. And for all the need to give people useful skills, part of the point of an education will always be about learning the sorts of soft skills that allow for the outside-the-box thinking companies claim to value.
That's not to mention that long-term, the marketplace tends to reward those soft skills. While most liberal arts grads don't see huge salaries when they first come out of school, they command higher salaries than earners of professional degrees by the time they reach their peak earning years, according to the The Wall Street Journal.
Still, facts are facts. The studies pretty clearly show that today's grads don't find their degrees as useful as they should once they start looking for jobs.
Where You Come In
It's natural to look at this problem and think about what business leaders can do to help. Sure, you can work with local colleges and universities to develop curricula and offer practical workplace experiences.
Here's the thing: Even if colleges undertake full-on initiatives to change the way they prepare students, those plans could take a generation or more to come to fruition. Meanwhile, the schools are going to continue graduating students whose confidence in their workplace preparedness is dwindling. And guess what? You can't shy away from recent grads forever. If you want to hire young workers, that's by and large the pool you have from which to choose them.
So if there's one thing you can do to try and ameliorate the problem, it might be to change the way you think about new graduates. Bellevue University president Mary Hawkins tells Inc. that while recent grads might lack some of the hard skills companies want to see, almost all of them boast some softer skills that are integral to the modern workplace. Time management, collaboration, and learning development are just a few examples.
Hawkins suggests recruiting based on these soft skills and accepting that some of the "hard skills" your company requires will entail some on-the-job training. She also says that establishing goals--expectations of what you expect recent hires to have achieved at certain points in their tenure--will leverage the skills they've learned in college. Think of it like a syllabus.
Of course, some students are better suited for certain positions than others. An English major probably isn't a fit for a data analysis position (unless, that is, he or she has some pretty unusual experience). But the general idea here isn't to open the doors to any job for any student.
Rather, it's to recognize that graduating is an accomplishment on its own, and one that requires certain skills. If you recognize the role these skills can play in your workplace, you might get a better idea of how recent grads could fit in at your company--even if you have to teach them how to input something on a computer.