What do employers really want from college grads?
You hear it all the time. A college degree is pretty much a must these days in the workforce. But employers often complain that today’s college graduates aren’t cutting it. . . .
“We find that a lot of people, and not just new college grads, people that are coming from a career, aren’t getting that skill set,” Boyes [a high-tech employer] says. “How you put an idea forward, and how do you support it, how do you build it, how do you put the facts behind it? All of those things are really critical."
Boyes sounds like a lot of the employers who responded to our survey. More than half of them said they have trouble finding qualified people for job openings. They said recent grads too often don’t know how to communicate effectively. And they have trouble adapting, problem solving and making decisions – things employers say they should have learned in college. . . .
That’s why everyone Boyes hires goes through a year-long training program. “The company puts probably about a quarter of a million dollars into every single new hire,” Boyes says. “But that’s the kind of value that we get out of it.”The training covers basics – like how to write an effective business document – and throws in some philosophy and history. . . .We do that because we ask them to look at the process – the abstract process – of organizing ideas,” Boyes says.Sounds a lot like an argument for liberal arts education, at a time when more students are being told to study science and technology as a path to a career. Maguire Associates, the firm that conducted the survey, says the findings suggest colleges should break down the “false dichotomy of liberal arts and career development,” saying they’re “intrinsically linked.”
Or, as Boyes puts it: “We don’t need mono-focused people. We need well-rounded people.” And that’s from a tech employer.
Fully story here.
One could argue that the reporter stacked the deck more than a bit, by choosing to shape a story about a larger survey around an anecdote about a single high-tech employer with a very specific vision for its employees (and a liberal-arts sensibility; see clever Latin name of said business), and the money to put it into practice. But both the story and the underlying survey still sound interesting, and seem to confirm what I often tell my students: people hire college graduates not for what they already know, but for the skills they have developed, especially the ones that will allow them to follow, and shape, changes in accepted knowledge in an increasingly fast-moving world (or at least one that seems that way; it's worth noting that the pace of contemporary change seemed dizzying and disorienting to Thoreau and other denizens of the 19th century, as well).
Another thing that stood out for me (in a part of the story I haven't excerpted above): the guinea pig job applicant they sent in to interview did less than satisfactorily on one interview question because he was describing a project structured by exactly the sort of carefully-scaffolded assignment many of us try to create. Because the assignment had so many detailed steps, directions, guidelines, etc. (good ones, no doubt), it sounds like he and his team hadn't learned as much about the process as they might, and hadn't had the chance to fail (and to overcome failure). Now, I'm all for scaffolding (and not at all sure I'm ready to cope with the chaos that might/would result if I simply threw a task at students -- especially in groups -- and left them to figure out the process), but this does point to a weakness in even our best -- and I really do think they are, in many ways, good -- pedagogical practices.
P.S. Here's the Chronicle's take on the same story. Apparently the survey was a joint effort.