There is an employment epidemic in America right now that has been largely under-discussed, but has been impacting entry-level employers across many industries: today’s college graduates are largely unprepared to enter and contribute to the workforce. And while this may sound like a distorted view of millennials that has been propagated by Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers, the source of this information might surprise you – the students themselves.
According to the Strada-Gallup 2017 College Student Survey – which represents the views of more than 30,000 randomly selected college students across 43 randomly selected institutions – “only about one third of students (34 – 36%) think they will graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in the job marketplace and in the workplace.” These levels of confidence vary across students and across majors – strikingly, only 28% of students in Liberal Arts programs felt they would graduate with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the job-marketplace, and only 32% of these students were confident they would graduate with the knowledge and skills to succeed in the workplace. While these numbers were slightly higher in career-specific fields such as STEM, Public Service, and Business, the report noted a distinct trend of students across all these areas feeling that their undergraduate experience was not preparing them to successfully make the leap into their careers.
But are the students really evaluating themselves fairly or accurately? Well, according to the Job Outlook 2018 and Class of 2017 Student Survey reports conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), students are actually overconfident about their workplace skills. While close to 90% of students felt they displayed a proficient professionalism and work ethic, only 42.5% of employers felt their recently hired graduates met this criteria. Similarly, nearly 80% of students considered their oral/written communication skills proficient, while less than 42% of employers felt this way about their recent hires. And these gaps in perception held true across numerous other skill areas including critical thinking/problem solving, teamwork/collaboration, leadership, career management, and global/intercultural fluency.
So what can students do to address these gaps? First of all, they need to understand the areas in which employers are noting deficiencies. If employers feel that students lack work-ethic and professionalism, a student must go out of their way to demonstrate an unrelenting work ethic – a stellar resume and strong references can do wonders in this regard. Students can take specific classes or online courses both inside and outside of college to address skill gaps in other areas, such as communication or critical thinking. It is also important to take note of what unique skills a given industry is going to value – if you are planning on going into international business, a demonstrated global/intercultural language and fluency is highly desirable.
It’s no wonder that today’s students feel largely unprepared to enter the workforce – many of them truly are. If a student wants to shake off the stigma of their generation, they are going to need to step beyond the curriculum their college or university has laid out, and take it upon themselves to improve in the areas employers are looking for. It’s time for college students to get serious about making the leap to career, and to show the initiative needed to successfully translate their college experience into a successful career launch.