Hey, college kids and recent grads: you'll probably want a job soon, right? A real job. A "grown-up" job. Something with a generous benefits package. Heck, something with any benefits package. Maybe even a job that's--dare you ask so much?--relevant to your interests. Well right now less than 20% of employers feel you're "very prepared for the workplace". They're increasingly looking for candidates with concrete, practical experience. Your high school guidance counselor probably promoted a college education as the golden ticket to a successful career and a comfortable middle-class life. Having one certainly doesn't hurt your chances, but there are stipulations if you want to make it to the top (or even the bottom).
You probably suspected as much, but here are some numbers from a recent survey by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. (My professors taught me to always back claims up with data. And not to split infinitives.) According to the survey, 16 percent of employers believe that college graduates are very prepared for the workplace, while 54 percent say finding skilled and knowledgeable employees is difficult. They're not talking theoretical knowledge here. They're talking hands-on, know-what-you're-doing, don't-need-your-hand-held training. Almost half of the employers surveyed prefer that college students receive an education that specifically prepares them for the workplace.
Employers are also asking for more accountability from higher education institutions in providing students a practical learning curriculum that can lead to workplace success. Nineteenth-century Russian literature is all well and good, but knowing Pushkin's not gonna land you that IT job.
According to Rick Cali, associate dean of Benedictine University's College of Business, students hoping to meet employer expectations must become engaged in the classroom, participate in service learning (working with outside organizations on professional projects), earn internships and participate in employment outreach programs. "Participation in University clubs for leadership development and taking advantage of study abroad opportunities also are experiences that bring value to the student experience," Cali said.
The economy may be improving faster than expected, but the numbers on economists' charts often feel slow to translate to real-life job availability. Educated young people have traditionally been ideal candidates for HR departments, as they tend to be tech-savvy, motivated, aware of new trends, and willing to work for less. But for the moment at least, older, more experienced workers are still delaying or coming out of retirement, often in direct competition with fresh-faced workers for entry-level jobs. Against these applicants' sometimes 20+ years related experience, your euphemistic good communication skills, strong critical thinking ability, ability to work in a team, and proficiency in Microsoft Office applications won't get your résumé to the top of the stack. Following advice like Cali's above might help tip the odds in your favor.
Some college-educated job-seekers are turning toward jobs in the skilled trades, while still others jump into the market through government- and NGO-sponsored service organizations--AmeriCorps, Teach for America, e.g.--often sacrificing comfortable paychecks for a modest benefits package, hands-on job training, and the flexibility of a short-term contract. Participation in such programs, or in traditional internships, can also help new job seekers discover wider opportunities in their prospective career field.
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