Graduating students entering the job market have a significantly higher impression of their readiness for employment than their employers, according to a report released last week by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
While the result reflects the growing demand for skill requirements in a sluggish post-recession job market, Georgetown officials expected a slowly recovering economy and Georgetown’s emphasis on work-based experience to help mitigate these differences.
The report compared the responses of 400 executives at private-sector companies and non-profit organizations to 613 graduating college students, approximately three-fourths of whom attended a four-year private or public institution.
The survey conducted by Hart Research Associates revealed that employers’ evaluations of skills such as communication and critical thinking were less favorable than the students’ self-evaluations. For example, while 66 percent of the surveyed college students rated their critical thinking skills between an eight and a 10 on a 0-10 scale, only 26 percent of employers rated students in a similar range.
Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce Director Anthony Carnevale explained that in 1983, the American economy began changing due to improving technology that prioritized machines in manual labor, which favored service jobs in sectors such as finance, healthcare and the information industry, demanding high entry-level requirements. With schools unable to adjust quickly to the changing market, a perception that college graduates were insufficiently prepared for the job market evolved.
“There was a very rapid increase in skill requirement, and we were suddenly dependent on our two-year and four-year college system and the for-profit schools and technical schools to get the job done,” Carnevale said. “They couldn’t keep up. The change was so fast that they didn’t keep up through the ’80s and ’90s. Most employers will tell you still that they’re not keeping up now.”
He added that while universities effectively teach the knowledge required to obtain a bachelor’s degree, students ineffectively use this knowledge in the workforce.
“Someone who takes economics or gets an economics degree at a university understands what’s in the textbook,” Carnevale said. “But they’re not good at applying that knowledge, thinking critically or doing a variety of other things which is now demanded at entry-level. A long time ago, just getting the degree was enough, but it’s not anymore.”
Carnevale said he believed this discrepancy exists because undergraduates have a fairly truncated view of the real world, as they are not truly part of it yet, but added that finding a solution may be easier said than done.
“It’s tough to get a curriculum to mimic the real world,” Carnevale said. “The real world’s more complicated.”
Cawley Career Education Center Executive Director Michael Schaub agreed with Carnevale and added that internships often fail to fully prepare students for the workforce.
“Even though many students pursue internships during college and obtain some experience in the workplace, they have yet to fully engage in work — 40 or more hours per week, week in and week out,”
Schaub wrote in an email to The Hoya. “After college graduates gain experience in the workplace and receive feedback from supervisors and peers, they will be better equipped to evaluate their competency across these learning outcomes.”
Professor of public policy Harry Holzer expressed mixed feelings about the report. While his observation that young workers are struggling in the recession did not make him dismiss the results, he believed that the surveyed employers are not a truly representative sample that fully represents the job market.
“The sample’s tilted towards bigger organizations and bigger companies,” Holzer said. “A lot of people are employed at small- and medium-sized firms that don’t have any executives.”
Holzer also said he believes hiring rates of young adults are more significant than employers’ dissatisfaction rates.
“We know that employers aren’t getting their dream employees and they’re often disappointed with a lot of the young people that they’re getting,” Holzer said. “If, in fact, they’re still willing to hire them and pay for them, that’s what we care about more.”
While the AACU report focused on the consequences for graduating college students, Holzer, whose research primarily focuses on the low-wage labor market, worried about the implications for disadvantaged workers who do not have a bachelor’s degree.
“The gap between people who have a B.A. and people who don’t have a B.A. remains as wide as ever,” Holzer said. “If employers aren’t that thrilled with people who have B.A.s, imagine what it’s like for folks who don’t have them.”
However, while not fully recovered, job prospects for the graduating class of 2015 are in better shape they were in 2008 and 2009 due to the slow rebound of the economy. Additionally, despite internships not perfectly replicating the work environment, the increased exposure of Georgetown students to pre-professional and graduate school opportunities offers them an advantage in developing specialized skills that are in demand in the job market, according to Carnevale.
“[Georgetown] does a very good job of integrating students into both work-based and service experiences, which is one of the distinctive things here,” Carnevale said. “They’re about teaching people how to work with other people outside of academic context to make their way in situations where you’re not just talking about the questions at the end of the chapter. You’re talking about the actual operations of real institutions in the real world with real people.”