Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Essential Work Skills and Readiness: Perceptions of Employers, MBA Students and Undergraduates

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Essential Work Skills and Readiness: Perceptions of Employers, MBA Students and Undergraduates

Article excerpt


Employers often have voiced concerns about business school graduates' preparedness for entry-level jobs. Employers expect recent college graduates to possess certain skill sets that many of them lack. There can be many reasons for this discrepancy but an important cause of the problem may be that students are not aware of the skills valued by the employers. The purpose of this study is to understand whether business students are aware of the skills employers consider important, especially the skills employers think students need to improve upon.


Previous research has shown that undergraduates start college full of misconceptions about employers' skill preferences (Humphreys & Davenport, 2005). Although a number of efforts have been made by researchers to understand employers' expectations in general (DuPre & Williams, 2011) and in specific fields (Tesone & Ricci, 2012), this subject remains not well understood by the students. Without a good understanding of the skill set valued by the prospective employers, it is not possible for the students to prepare themselves, even if they have the willingness and resources from the school to do so. Therefore, it is not surprising that a recent survey by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that nine out of ten employers judged recent college graduates as poorly prepared for the workforce in areas such as critical thinking, communication, and problem solving (Belkin, 2015).

In this study, we surveyed undergraduate and MBA students to assess their understanding of skills that employers thought were most important for new graduates to possess and the skills employers thought were most in need of improvement. The same survey was used to collect data from the employers. The responses were compared across the three groups: Undergraduate Students ("Undergrads"), MBA Students ("Grads"), and Employers.

The data from MBA students were collected from second-year students in a "traditional" MBA program designed primarily for recent college graduates. That is, the program did not require students to have post-baccalaureate or managerial-level job experience. These MBA students, while further along in their career development than Undergrads, nevertheless are recent college graduates who are still in the early stages of their careers, and we hypothesize that it would be many years before the perceptions of these MBA students would be similar to the respondents in the Employer survey. Having survey responses from each of these three groups provides a unique opportunity to analyze how students' understanding of employers' expectations might vary according to the stage of career development.

Previous studies investigating important skill sets for students as expected by prospective employers have compared either undergraduate students' views with those of the employers' (Kavanagh & Drennan, 2008; Roth et al., 2010) or the graduate students' views with those of the employers' (Elmore, 2010; Hill et al., 2014). We add to the existing literature by taking a comprehensive approach by comparing and contrasting views of all three groups (undergraduate students, graduate students, and the employers) simultaneously in the present study.


Since the early 1990s the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has conducted an annual survey of what employers and job candidates (graduating seniors and recent graduates) want from each other. The Saint Cloud State University (SCSU) College Job Outlook Survey (also referred to as the Minnesota College Job Outlook Survey), where respondents were the employers, was started in 2004 to overcome several shortcomings of the NACE survey. Whereas NACE sampled fewer than ten Minnesota state employers (and even fewer that recruited from SCSU), the SCSU Survey samples dozens of organizations that participate in the three primary college job fairs in Minnesota state, representing a wide variety of economic sectors, including business services, telecommunications, education, financial services, government, healthcare, the military, manufacturing, non-profit/human services, restaurant/hospitality, retail, and technology. …

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