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Career Counseling Must Connect Dots Between Skills, Available Jobs 
 

5/3/2012  By Joseph Coombs 
 
 

An April 23, 2012, Associated Press report revealed some troubling information regarding job opportunities for the Class of 2012. It said that half of recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed in positions that don’t use their skills and knowledge fully.

The figures were based on 2011 U.S. Census data analyzed by Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

While there are still many good job opportunities available for graduates with skills in sciences, technology, education and health care, prospects are dimmer for arts and humanities majors as well as those with other liberal arts degrees. It’s clear that picking a course of study that’s in demand in the workforce is more important than ever.

This, however, is not always easy for a typical 18-year-old. For many, college is the place where young adults first discover their skills, and there are countless young people who aren’t sure what to do when they’ve finished their studies after four (or more) years of collegiate studies. That is not to say that students should be forced into certain courses of study. But many experts agree that stepped-up career counseling is needed to help connect education with career prospects.

Career Counseling, Not College, Being Scrutinized

An April 19, 2012, survey report titled Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers, commissioned by university and business leaders convened by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and Educational Testing Service (ETS), calls for such changes in graduate education’s link to the workforce. Results of surveyed students show that only slightly more than one-third of them believe that they had received “as much information as needed” to understand their career options prior to entering graduate school.

The report also noted that employers should “enhance and expand collaborative relationships” with their higher education counterparts and that many students still don’t have a firm grasp of the job opportunities available to them.

“To date, there has been little research to identify whether graduate students understand the relationship between their studies and future career options,” said Cathy Wendler, principal director of research at ETS and co-author of the report. “If we can illuminate career pathways, we will ensure that students have a map or framework within which to make informed choices, employers will understand key factors integral to employee and employer success and universities will be able to adapt and improve programs to better meet workforce demands.”

“Simply put, we’re failing kids coming out of college. We’re going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market,” Sum told the Associated Press, emphasizing that when it comes to jobs, a college major can make all the difference.

Combine that with a labor market that has experienced steady but unspectacular growth in early 2012, and the immediate future looks cloudy for some college graduates. But this speaks more to the selection of a major that is in high demand for jobs than to dismissing the value of a college education altogether.

The positive link between college degree attainment and employment and income levels is stronger than ever. From 2010 to 2020, 17 of the 30 occupations projected to have the fastest employment growth will need some type of postsecondary education for entry into the occupation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Only three of the 30 occupations projected to have the largest employment declines during that time are classified as needing postsecondary education for entry.

More proof that students should forge ahead in the classroom after high school: In October 2011, unemployment rates for young men and women with at least a bachelor’s degree was 9.5 percent and 8.0 percent, respectively, according to an April 19, 2012, BLS report on college enrollment. Jobless rates for those without a high school diploma were 19.7 percent for young adult men and 31.2 percent for young adult women.

That same report said that in October 2011, 68.3 percent of 2011 high school graduates were enrolled in colleges and universities, not far from the record high of 70.1 percent set in October 2009.

Will the job market provide more opportunities for those students when they finish college in 2015? It will require not only a stronger economy overall, but also better coordination between academic institutions and the private sector, in order to match students’ skills with the types of jobs that will be in demand at that time.

Joseph Coombs is SHRM’s workplace trends and forecasting specialist.

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