Last Friday I attended a conference which addressed the place of the Community College in the 21st century. There were a lot of speakers there, from the two state legislators who were primarily responsible for passing a bill in my state that will drastically reduce the amount of remedial help we will be allowed to give high school graduates who come to us unable to read, write or do simple math, to the president of one of our state universities, to business and community leaders.
The business and community leaders were the most interesting, informative and relevant. Anyway, one of them, a man who owns a rather large company in our state which employs electrical and mechanical engineers (we have an AS in both of those areas) told this story. His company needs to hire young men and women who have degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering. They hire people with both four year and two year degrees, for different jobs.
He says he has never been more disappointed with the new college graduates than he has been in the past ten to fifteen years, and it is getting worse. The biggest problem, he says, in his field is not really that the college graduates, be they two or four year grads, have not learned the technical knowledge they needed to learn in their college classes. The problem, he says, is that today's college grads are helpless and annoying and come to him with a huge sense of entitlement. To try to find the kind of employee he needs in his company, he does a simple test during his interviews:
After a candidate has made it through the interview process, he or she is asked to perform some simple technical task on the computer. Very simple, but with one little trick built in to the situation: they are asked to print out the results of their task, and to bring it to the interviewer within 20 minutes. And the printer is always unplugged. The task, he told us, should not take your average person on the street more than 5 minutes to complete. So that gives them 15 minutes to figure out what to do about the printer problem. He will only hire the ones that can bring him what he asked for within the given time. He does not care how they do it, although he does prefer the people who just plug in the damn printer, (Only a small percentage actually plug in the printer, he shared with us. The rest of the minority candidates who actually overcome the obstacle do things like use their personal thumb drives on which they save their information, carry to a different office, and get someone to help them by printing it out.) This guy told us that 2/3s of the candidates come to him in a variety of helpless states----annoyed at him for asking them to do something when his equipment is faulty, flustered and tearful, apathetic, even smug, seeming glad to be able to point out where he, the job offerer, has failed in his ability to make the job easy to complete.
What does he want us to do as educators? Produce college graduates who can plug in a printer.