Bridge the Divide

2d536e0 By Jeff Selingo Author, Columnist Feb 5, 2015

Let’s Bridge the Divide between What Colleges Produce and What Employers Want

Debates about whether the purpose of college is to train us for a job or provide us with the foundational knowledge that allow us to “learn how to learn” throughout our lifetimes are as old as the Republic.
But as the cost of college has continued to spiral upward while family income stagnates, more students and their families want to be sure there is a good job waiting for them at the end to justify their tuition investment. Just today, an annual survey of college freshmen found that 8 in 10 of them want to be well off financially.
Whether that happens, of course, is largely dependent on the job market. Ask employers, however, if they’re happy with the skill set today’s college graduates are bringing to the job and they’re likely to say No. Employers have long complained about people that don’t walk in the door already trained for a job, but perhaps we just perceive the problem as worse today because employers are surveyed much more on the subject than ever before.
Even so, there are strategies both colleges and employers can take to bridge what appears to be a growing divide between the two sides when it comes to whether graduates are job ready:
Get Real About Expectations. We expect too much out of today’s bachelor’s degree. As the college degree has become basically the only potential path to the Middle Class, we expect colleges to provide students with a broad-based education, skills training, experiences outside the classroom, all stuffed into four years, even as more of them come to college not academically prepared.
Encourage job exploration earlier in life. Let’s face it, most students pick careers based on familiarity—the jobs their parents have or the parents of their friends or neighbors. As the accountability movement has taken over in public K-12 schools, there’s less time for students to explore careers through elective classes, career days, or apprenticeships and field trips. No wonder students come to college not really knowing what they want to do. By the end of their first year, a quarter of all freshmen change their mind about their field of study. Colleges should also provide more career services earlier in the undergraduate years, including career coaches, who can better help students figure out their pathways and the skills they need to pursue those goals.
Create More Paying Internships. Internships are more critical than ever, especially during college. They not only provide the workplace skills many students need, but they also allow students to explore careers. And more employers are using them as a recruiting tool for full-time hiring. The problem is too many internships don’t pay and students often need a paying job to assist with their tuition bills or for living expenses. If employers want better college graduates, more of them should pay their interns.
Don’t Worry about Job Hopping in the 20s. Adults sometimes think twenty-somethings who hop between jobs are directionless. But a recent study found that job hopping at that age allows people to explore careers, and probably most important, allows them to find more satisfying and higher paying jobs later in their life.
Don’t Expect Graduates to Do a Job On Day One. Employers still need to train workers. In 1979, companies spent $20 billion on job training. Today they spend about $6 billion. Half of what is known today was not known ten years ago, according to the American Society of Training and Documentation. Employers shouldn’t expect workers to be job-ready without additional work-based training.
The only way we bridge the divide between what colleges produce and what employers want is if both sides do a better job preparing and training today’s young graduates.