Certainly, it does seem reasonable for employers to expect job candidates to possess both field-specific knowledge and a broad range of knowledge and skills if they are to achieve long-term career success, what theoretically should be obtained by the time they finish their education.
Unfortunately, today’s college graduates are often not passing muster with their employees and lack the critical skills and experience needed for these positions. That’s just one of the findings of a Hart Research Associates online survey conducted this past November on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU). The survey was composed of 400 employers whose businesses employ at least 25 people. Of these new hires, at least 25 percent hold an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.
Following the initial employer survey, Hart Research conducted an online survey of 613 college students. Of these, 455 were seniors at four-year colleges and the remaining 158 were students at community colleges. Moreover, the two-year students were finishing their studies and would soon graduate with an associate degree and pursue employment or transfer to a four-year institution. From the joint surveys, Hart Research developed a report [see here] and published its findings earlier this week.
The report found that “employers value the ability to apply learning in real-world settings” with an emphasis on “applied learning experiences.” Specifically, nearly all (or 88 percent to be precise) affirmed “that it is important for colleges and universities to ensure that all students are prepared with the skills and knowledge needed to complete an applied learning project.”
Approximately three-quarters of the participants indicated that students would be better equipped for the workforce if colleges required them to complete a “significant applied learning project” before they graduated. Of that number, 60 percent indicated that such a project should at least be expected of the students.
The employers agreed that participating in an internship, a senior project, a collaborative research project, a field-based project or a community-based project would also benefit students, who would then be adequately prepared as employees. Likewise, the report found that college students and employers are in agreement with the key learning outcomes desired.
However, the report also found that “college students are notably out of sync with employers in their perception of their preparedness on a wide range of skills and knowledge areas.” Further, there is a disconnect between how well college students believe they are prepared and what employers continue to discover. That perception gap is something not easily bridged.
The Hart Research study also discovered that employers, regardless of the student’s chosen field of study, believe that certain learning outcomes should be mastered by graduates before they enter the workforce. Specifically, nearly all employers (96 percent) concurred with the statement that “all college students should have educational experiences that teach them how to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own.”
A full 87 percent believe that “all college students should gain an understanding of democratic institutions and values.” Civic knowledge, skills and judgment are among the core values that 86 percent of employers believe that students should possess, especially if they are to contribute to our democratic society.
The liberal arts and sciences is valued by employers, too, with 78 percent affirming that every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the same. That same percentage also said that college students “should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies and countries outside of the United States.”
Of 17 learning outcomes that employers might expect of new employees, six garnered scores of 80 percent or more. They were: the ability to effectively communicate orally, the ability to work effectively with others in teams, the ability to effectively communicate in writing, ethical judgment and decision-making, critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, and the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were learning outcomes that employers do not place as much value on as they do with some others. Indeed, the push to world languages only garnered support from 23 percent of employers who agreed that proficiency in a language other than English was important.
Employers responded favorably to the notion that job candidates should provide an electronic portfolio containing their resume, college transcripts and their individual accomplishments in key skill and knowledge areas. Indeed, 44 percent said that access to such a portfolio would be “fairly” useful with another 36 percent contending that it would be highly useful.
To sum up, the AACU report once again underscores key differences between employer expectations, student perceptions and what educational institutions are providing. In some cases, these differences are staggering with aggressive action warranted to remedy the disconnect.
See Also — At-Risk Students in Danger of Failing