Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today’s Workplace

Employers endorse communication, teamwork skills as best career prep

By Roy Maurer Jan 26, 2015

A troubling disconnect exists between how prepared college students feel for post-graduation career success and how far from the mark employers say they actually are.

The report Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, released by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) and conducted by Hart Research Associates, summarizes selected findings from two national surveys—one of 400 employers and another of 613 current college students.

Consistent with past AAC&U surveys, employers are concerned about new graduates having a broad range of skills in areas that cut across majors. Students largely agree with employers on what learning outcomes are essential for career success, but they judge themselves to be far better prepared for the work world than do employers.

Key findings of the report include:

  • Employers place the greatest priority on a demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge when hiring recent college graduates. The most highly valued competencies for employers include oral and written communication (85 percent/82 percent), teamwork skills (83 percent), ethical decision-making (81 percent), critical thinking (81 percent), and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings (80 percent).
  • 9 in 10 employers responded that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
  • 58 percent of employers said that students need to be better prepared for success in entry-level positions. More than two-thirds said that improvements are needed to prepare students for advancement and promotion.
  • Only about 25 percent of employers said that recent graduates are well-prepared in critical thinking and analytic reasoning, written and oral communication, complex problem-solving, innovation and creativity, and applying knowledge and skills to real-world settings. About 30 percent said grads are well-prepared in the area of ethical judgment and decision-making, and 37 percent said they are well-prepared in teamwork skills.
  • Students similarly rank the most important learning outcomes essential for career success as critical thinking and analytic reasoning (79 percent), the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings (79 percent), oral communication (78 percent), teamwork skills (77 percent), written communication (75 percent), and ethical judgment and decision-making (74 percent). However, in contrast to what a majority of employers feel, more than 60 percent of students rate themselves as well-prepared in these competencies.
  • 87 percent of employers agreed that they are “somewhat likely” or “much more likely” to hire a college graduate if he or she has completed a senior project while in college. Sixty percent agreed that all students should be expected to complete a significant applied-learning project before graduating from college.
  • Nearly all employers surveyed (96 percent) agreed that all students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.
  • Fewer than half of employers (45 percent) say that they find a candidate’s college transcript “very” or “fairly” useful in helping them to evaluate his or her potential to succeed at their company.
  • 80 percent of employers say that it would be very or fairly useful to be able to see an electronic portfolio of student work that summarizes and demonstrates a candidate’s accomplishments in key skill and knowledge areas.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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