Employers value a four-year college degree, many of them more than ever.
Yet half of those surveyed recently by The Chronicle and American Public Media’s Marketplace said they had trouble finding recent graduates qualified to fill positions at their company or organization. Nearly a third gave colleges just fair to poor marks for producing successful employees. And they dinged bachelor’s-degree holders for lacking basic workplace proficiencies, like adaptability, communication skills, and the ability to solve complex problems.
“Woefully unprepared” is how David E. Boyes characterized the newly minted B.A.’s who apply to his Northern Virginia technology consulting company.
What gives? These days a bachelor’s degree is practically a prerequisite for getting your résumé read—two-thirds of employers said they never waive degree requirements, or do so only for particularly outstanding candidates. But clearly the credential leaves employers wanting. While they use college as a sorting mechanism, to signal job candidates’ discipline and drive, they think it is falling short in adequately preparing new hires.
The tension may lie partly in changes in the world of work: technological transformation and evolving expectations that employees be ready to handle everything straightaway. And perhaps managers are right to expect an easier time finding employees up to the task—after all, three times the proportion of Americans have bachelor’s degrees now as did a generation or two ago.
The survey – Key Findings: How are colleges doing?
- Nearly seven out of ten employers surveyed indicated that colleges are doing a “good” or “excellent” job when it comes to producing successful employees; however, more work is required to change the minds of the 31% of respondents who gave colleges a “fair” to “poor” rating.
- HR has the most favorable opinion of a college’s ability to produce successful employees with 72% indicating at least a “good” rating; however, Executives are more than twice as likely to have an “excellent” rating than either HR or Managers in this survey. Managers are the hardest to please with 34% indicating a “poor” or “fair” rating.
- Opinions on the job colleges are doing preparing graduates for work vary by industry category with the Government/Non-profit segment giving top marks to colleges and universities (80% with at least a “good” rating).
- The Services/Retail (39%), Health Care (35%), and Media/Communications (35%) indicated that colleges and universities are doing a “fair” or “poor” job — more than any other industry.
- One-third of employers in this study place more value on today’s four-year degree vs. that of five years ago. However, those who placed less value on today’s degree nearly balanced out those that indicated more value, resulting in only a slight increase in mean rating of the value today vs. five years ago (3.1 me.an rating out of 5 possible points)
- While industries like Government and Education, which typically require advanced degrees, see an overall drop in value of a four-year degree from five years ago, employers from Manufacturing (mean rating of 3.24) and Services/Retail (3.23) place a greater value than average on today’s four-year degree, suggesting a more competitive playing field in markets previously more accepting of non-degreed employees.
- Thirty-one percent of employers indicated that recent graduates are unprepared or very unprepared for their job search.
- Over half of the employers indicated difficulty in finding qualified candidates for job openings.
- Among industry segments, Science/Technology and Media/Communications appear to struggle more than other industries in finding qualified candidates receiving mean ratings of 3.75 and 3.57 (out of 5) on difficulty in finding qualified candidates.
- Additionally, these same two industry segments rated colleges and universities as “fair” to “poor” more frequently than other industries in terms of producing successful employees. Media/Communications also indicated, more than other industries, that students were unprepared or very unprepared for their job search.
- According to employers in the study, graduates can prepare better by researching the organization, followed by improving interview skills, and researching the industry. Only Media/Communications ranked the importance of preparing a better resume above interviewing skills, presumably because their concentration field tends to better prepare them in interviewing skills.
Key Findings: What are employers looking for?
- Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.
- All industries and hiring levels place slightly more weight on student work or internship experiences than on academic credentials.
- Science/Technology, Services/Retail, and Media/Communications segments tilt the scale toward experience more than other industries.
- Weighted results show that college major is the most important academic credential to employers; however, internships and employment during college are the top traits employers consider in evaluating recent graduates for a position.
- College major comes in third, overall, except at Health Care organizations where it is neck and neck with employment during college, and at organizations with fewer than 50 employees where employers value volunteer work and extracurricular activities more, dropping college major to fifth on the list of all traits examined in this study.
- Extracurricular activities, like professional clubs, athletics, and service, are valued more than GPA, relevance of coursework to position, and college reputation except by Executives who emphatically place more weight on coursework relevance and GPA, closely trailing college major.
- An internships is the single most important credential for recent college graduates to have on their resume in their job search among all industry segments with Media/Communications placing the highest value on internships in comparison to other industries.
- When it comes to the skills most needed by employers, job candidates are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving.
- Employers place the responsibility on colleges to prepare graduates in written and oral communications and decision-making skills. Results indicate that colleges need to work harder to produce these traits in their graduates.
- While the gap between employer need and graduate skills narrows in the Media/Communications industry for written and oral skills, colleges have more of a challenge developing decision-making and technical skills in students geared toward this industry.
- The need for recent graduates to adapt and to manage multiple priorities is greatest among employers from the Business, Health, Media/Communications, and Science/Technology segments; however, employers place less responsibility on colleges for training in these skill areas, perhaps putting the onus more on the individual to acquire these high-demand skills.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor