by John Hyde and Amy Bravo
Many of today’s college students are stunningly ill-prepared for the professional world. What’s worse, they don’t even realize it.
A new survey from the Association of American Colleges and Universities finds that about 70 percent of college students think they possess the critical thinking skills needed to succeed in the workplace. But less than a third of employers think recent college grads are ready for the real world.
There’s good reason for this divide. Employers increasingly value skills that often aren’t taught on the average college campus. And most students are completely unaware of employer demands because they don’t plan for life outside the academic bubble.
Colleges need to repair this disconnect. Faculty and administrators must ensure students develop the aptitudes that can actually secure them long-term, satisfying employment.
Consider skills like teamwork and collaboration. While 60 percent of college students think they excel here, just 40 percent of employers agree. When it comes to the quality and speed of their decision-making, student confidence is double that of employers’.
At the same time, many employers have stopped assessing academic achievements alone. Indeed, only 2 percent of employers consider GPA the most important factor when evaluating job applications, according to a survey from the research firm Millennial Branding.
These discrepancies are exacerbated because many students don’t take advantage of the opportunities provided by school administrators to acquire professional skills.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve student career readiness.
First, colleges can adjust their curricula to better simulate real-world working conditions. Most jobs don’t require the sort of sustained, independent work it takes to finish a paper; collaboration is common. That’s why Purdue University lends some of its business students out to local small businesses to act as consultants. Professors in all academic programs should look for similar opportunities.
Leadership matters, too. Only micromanagers provide employees with minute-by-minute orders. Often, workers are expected to identify employer needs, adapt accordingly, and guide colleagues when appropriate. Given that, American University has launched a public affairs leadership program, which challenges students to identify a social ill and try to resolve it.
Career service programs also have an important role in prepping students for life after college. Administrators should focus on increasing the number of internships available, expanding the variety of participating employers, and allowing students to accrue credit from part-time professional opportunities.
Notably, Alma College in Michigan has installed a careers services program that provides students $2,500 grants toward off-campus internships, fellowships, or research.
Here at New York Institute of Technology, we provide extensive professional development opportunities. The skills our students acquire translate into real job opportunities. Fully 87 percent of our graduates are employed in their chosen field within six months of commencement. Nationally, only 55 percent of college grads secure full-time jobs before the six-month mark.
Most recently, we started an urban administration course that introduces students to the inner-workings of city governments and non-profits through traditional classroom instruction — and then empowers them participate first-hand with a community service project. This program isn’t simply aimed at exposing students to these fields. It also cultivates the problem-solving skills employers demand.
American institutions of higher education must narrow the gap between what the average student learns and what the average employer demands. If not, future generations of graduates will find themselves locked out of the job market and deprived of the chance to find fulfilling work.
John Hyde is the dean of New York Institute of Technology’s Office of Career Services. Amy Bravo is the assistant dean.