Brace yourselves, HR leaders: Some recent research suggests you may have your hands full with this next wave of employees about to join the workforce.
Earlier this week, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, which finds today’s college students ill-equipped to make the transition from campus to career, at least in employers’ eyes.
The report, conducted by Hart Research Associates, summarizes findings from two national surveys: one of business and non-profit leaders, and a second poll of current college students.
In the first survey, only about one-quarter of 400 employers said that recent graduates are well-prepared in terms of critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. Around 30 percent said the same with regard to new grads’ ethical judgment and decision-making skills.
Not surprisingly, students disagree with this assessment, as more than 60 percent of the 613 college students surveyed rate themselves as well-prepared with respect to critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written communication, teamwork skills, information literacy, ethical judgment and decision making, and oral communication.
This report’s release comes on the heels of a Council for Aid to Education test of nearly 32,000 students, the results of which suggest that four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work. For example, the 40 percent of tested students who failed to meet a standard deemed as “proficient” were “unable to distinguish the quality of evidence in building an argument or express the appropriate level of conviction in their conclusion,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The exam, known as the Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus, was administered at 169 colleges and universities throughout 2013 and 2014, in an effort to measure the “intellectual gains made between freshman and senior year,” evaluating “things like critical thinking, analytical reasoning, document literacy, writing and communication—essentially mimicking the baseline demands for professionals,” according to the Journal .
Taken together, the data from these studies paint a grim portrait of college kids’ prospects for success in the working world, at least early on in their careers.
Employers taking part in the AAC&U have some suggestions for making that picture a bit brighter.
These companies strongly endorsed putting an emphasis on applied learning, with 87 percent saying they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to hire a college graduate if he or she had completed a senior project in college. Sixty percent said all students should be expected to complete a significant applied learning project before graduation, while 96 percent said all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.
These are just a few specific steps toward better preparing the workforce’s next generation for taking the leap into the workplace, of course. But, in a broader sense, one theme emerging from this research is that more employers are seeking the prized—if increasingly elusive—blend of both field-specific and more wide-ranging knowledge and skills.
“Very few [organizations] indicate that acquiring knowledge and skills mainly for a specific field or position,” the AAC&U report notes, “is the best path for long-term success.”
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