How Prepared are College Students for a Career? Not as Much as They Think

Although college students and employers both agree on what makes a good employee, students overwhelming over-estimate their career-ready skills in comparison to what employers think of them. This is according to a study by Hart Research Associates, which found that employers value both broad knowledge across many subjects, as well as deep knowledge on a specific subject, but find that college graduates are often lacking in key skills that they should learn in college. Both employers and colleges students rated many of the same college learning outcomes as important, including effective written and oral communication skills, the ability to work with a team, critical thinking, and the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real world settings.

The Skills Gap

But it seems that students do not do as well at applying their knowledge to real-world settings as they think. For example, 66% of students report they are well-prepared in the area of critical thinking, but only 26% of employers find this to be so. 55% of students say they are prepared to work well with people of different backgrounds, but only 18% of employers find that they are.

What’s going on here? Is the lack of preparedness of students the fault of the college, or do employers just have unreasonable expectations?

It’s comforting to see that employers value broad learning across multiple subjects, the kind of education most students receive in a liberal arts college. However, employers also tend to have high expectations of recent college graduates that aren’t being met. While college is a time of learning and preparation, a degree by itself is often not enough preparation for a job, especially in recent years. There is still a learning curve when students enter the workforce, and employers today area less likely to offer on-the-job training that students expect.

One smart move a student can make is pursue an internship and gain as much real-world work experience as possible while still in school. Employers are much more likely to hire a student who had completed a relative internship or an applied learning experience.

Nearly all employers say they would be more likely to consider hiring a recent college graduate who had completed an internship or apprenticeship, including three in five (60%) who say their company would be much more likely to consider that candidate.

What do you think? Is career preparation the job of the college or of the student? Or should employers be offering more on-the-job training to create the kind of employees they claim they desire?