We are living in a rapidly changing world where competition is growing for both businesses as well as job seekers. Businesses may have more opportunities due to globalization as geographical boundaries have become less relevant but it also translates to higher degree of competition. Similarly, human and financial capital have become more mobile which means it is harder to find job as well as ensure lifetime career security. This has only enhanced the importance of college education and, indeed, studies have found that the lifetime earnings gap between those with college degrees and those with high school degrees has been rising. Pew Research Center found that the earnings gap between millennials with bachelor’s degrees and their counterparts with high school degrees only is wider than it was for previous generations . But this advantage of college degree may erode over time until colleges do a better job of preparing their students for the real world because studies have also found employers believe college graduates are ill-prepared for the job markets
A study by Chegg, the Student Hub, and Harris interactive found there is significant gap between students’ preparation for the job market and what employers want. About 2 in 5 or 40 percent of the college graduates were found by the employers to be adequately prepared during interview sessions over a period of two years. The study also found students tend to overestimate their readiness for the job market as compared to the employers’ perceptions. The shortcomings in college graduates were particularly in the area of soft skills such as organization and leadership. The study implied both colleges and students are to be blamed for this crisis. Colleges have failed to update their curriculums to meet the needs of changing times and students need to take more initiative to prepare themselves through activities such as internships, extra-curricular activities, and taking advantage of the resources offered by college career centers such as mock interviews . This study also helps us realize the fact that technical expertise is not enough to succeed today as it might have been few decades ago and the importance of soft skills such as leadership, communication, and cross-cultural skills may only grow over time due to globalization.
One of the most serious sources of concern should be the fact that even colleges vastly overstate how well they may be preparing students for the real world. One of the basic requirements of tackling a problem is to acknowledge the fact that a problem exists and if colleges believe they are already doing a good job, they have little incentive to change the way they are preparing students for the real world. A survey by Inside Higher Ed found that 96 percent of chief academic officers believe they are doing a good job of preparing students for success in the workforce. This is quite a contrast to the findings of Gallup Survey which found only 11 percent of business leaders believe graduates have the skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace .
More Americans are going to college which should mean employers have a vast pool of talent at their disposal yet this is not the case. A survey by College for America reported 85 percent of HR and director-level leaders struggle to find qualified applicants. This problem is not unique to one or few industries but exists in almost every industry such as manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, and retail among others . This once again confirms that there is a high need for closer collaboration between employers and colleges because the problem also exists due to inadequate communication between employers and educators.
Fortunately, businesses already understand it and a survey by Lumina/Gallup revealed 88 percent of businesses desire closer collaboration with providers of higher education to address the issue of graduates being ill-prepared for job markets . There are also other strategies which can be adopted to help students better prepare for the job markets. First of all, colleges should provide students with more guidance regarding the job prospects in their chosen field of study because not all majors are equal. For example, employment opportunities are so slim for holders of liberal arts degrees that a report found last year only 2 percent of companies were actively recruiting those with liberal arts degrees . While it is important for students to take initiatives to acquire or enhance skills required by employers, colleges could go the extra mile to ensure students acquire such skills. These potential steps may include mandatory internships, mock-up interviews, and courses on soft skills such as communication, leadership, and cross-cultural skills for all students no matter what their individual majors may be. Third, businesses should provide more internship opportunities to students and they could work closely with higher education institutions in this regard. Students may earn credits for internships which will benefit both businesses and educational institutions.
The importance of college education has only grown in the age of globalization but earning a college degree is not enough. The situation is especially worrisome because most employers think graduates are not adequately prepared for the job market. Making matters worse is the fact that many educators believe they are doing a good job of preparing students for the real world. Thus, there is a great need for employers and educators to work together to address this issue and ensure students investment in college education yield high dividends.
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