Getting Our New Graduates Employed: A Call for Better Job Preparation during the Undergraduate Years

By Engelkemeyer, Susan West | University Business, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

Getting Our New Graduates Employed: A Call for Better Job Preparation during the Undergraduate Years


Engelkemeyer, Susan West, University Business


Now that we have all waved our classes of 2012 on their way with pomp and circumstance--and hopefully with sunny graduation days--it's only natural to turn our attention to the classes of '13, '14, and '15. But to read the headlines of the past few months, there's still plenty to worry about concerning the graduates who are just entering the workforce and for whom the forecast is considerably cloudy.

Among the bad news, the Associated Press reported last April that almost 1.5 million of those age 25 years or younger with bachelor's degrees (nearly 54 percent) were either unemployed or underemployed. That number, which didn't include the most recent cohort of college graduates, represented an eye-opening increase from 41 percent in 2000.

The underemployed--some of whom do find part-time work in their chosen fields--otherwise toil in a range of jobs, from receptionists and cashiers to baristas and retail clerks, that require little more than a high school education. To add pressure to injury, many of them are feeling the additional pinch of paying off the loans for four years of higher education.

We at the institutions that sent them forth can agree that those results are not what we had in mind, even for the relatively short term and despite the sputtering national economy and sagging labor market. Certainly, parents of these young graduates are expecting a different career track for their children.

There is some good news. There are career-oriented jobs out there. And colleges can actually make a difference in how well graduates fare in the increasingly competitive job market. I know, because I've seen it firsthand at Nichols College (Mass.), and at other schools.

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In a survey last November of our class of 2011, almost 92 percent of respondents indicated they were employed full-time within six months of graduation. That number was a 1 percent increase over the 2010 graduates, and the rate over the past five years has averaged 94 percent, hard economic times notwithstanding.

At first glance, those numbers--and their incongruity with the aforementioned rates of unemployment and underemployment--might be attributed to the majority of our graduates leaving with business degrees.

That explanation might hold for those majoring in accounting, where demand routinely exceeds supply. For the great many of our other students, whether they have majored in general business, marketing, or finance (they also take an array of liberal arts courses, and we have our share of economics, English, psychology, history, and education majors, as well), there are other forces in career preparation hard at work.

It's worth noting that our student body, almost 1,000 strong, arrives with modest scores on standardized tests and often unremarkable grade point averages. Still, while we are only moderately selective in the admissions process, we turn out high-achieving graduates.

The ingredients aiding in that transformation are available to most four- and two-year colleges, liberal arts or otherwise, and they center around providing job-friendly skills and experiences that employers value.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FROM DAY ONE

From freshman through senior year, all of our students are required to take a weekly one-hour, one-credit course dubbed the Professional Development Seminar (PDS). At the freshman level, that course stresses improved communication skills, orally and in writing. In subsequent years, the PDS courses encompass the major challenges of facing the work world, and searching for a job. This past year, the PDS experience even extended to a "business attire" fashion show held in the campus dining room during lunchtime.

Skills such as resume writing, interviewing, researching potential employers, developing a personal portfolio, and looking the role of serious job applicant are on the menu of almost every college's career services office.

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