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With the hefty price tag attached to a bachelor’s degree these days—over $57,000 at a public university and much more at private colleges—you might well expect recent college graduates to emerge from their expensive educations skilled up and job-ready. Unfortunately, even the loftiest peaks of the ivory tower do not necessasarily guarantee that college grads have what it takes to become your next great hire.
The truth is that despite the perceived value of a college degree, many business owners and recruiters are struggling to find recent graduates who have the practical and soft skills to succeed in the workplace. Even more troubling, there is a surprising gap between graduates’ perception of their own job-readiness and what employers are seeing in interviews. According to a survey of 2,000 graduates and 1,000 hiring managers, about half of recent grads believe they are adequately prepared to take on a job in their field of study. From the hiring managers’ perspective, it’s a very different story: fewer than two in five managers found recent graduates they’d interviewed to be job-ready.
In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa discussed their latest book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, which tackles the very question of whether today’s college students are getting value for their money. The answer, according to Arum and Roksa, is a resounding “no”. Too many colleges, it seems, graduate students who are lacking in both practical skills and soft skills such as organization, financial planning and critical thinking.
Although a college degree does pay off for some in the long run, it’s clear that it does not necessarily equal job-readiness. So where else can managers and employers look for their next great hire?
1. A two-year college or vocational program.
With the cost of a four-year degree at a record high, many ambitious and motivated young people are rapidly discovering that a two-year vocational degree is the smarter option. Vocational programs are not only more likely to turn out candidates trained in the practical skills you need, but there is evidence that vocational training boosts confidence, work ethic, and high performance in other areas as well.
This is one reason why many astute business leaders are forming partnerships with community colleges. These partnerships ensure that curriculum reflects the needs of local employers and companies so that students graduate with exactly the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.
2. Your own company.
The talent you’re looking for may already be working within your business. Increasingly, companies are finding their best people from the ranks of those ambitious existing employees, ready and eager to acquire a new set of skills. And in fact, Incorporating skills training into your business model, as many forward-thinking companies are doing right now, is far less expensive, time consuming, and risky than recruiting externally. In-house training opportunities build loyalty, encourage a learning environment across the board, and give motivated employees the chance to show you what they can do. Cultivating the talent you already have is a big step toward securing the future of your business.
3. Apprenticeship programs.
In April 2014, President Obama announced the launch of a $100 million competition for American Apprenticeship Grants, to be awarded to partnerships and organizations focused on expanding apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeships are making a comeback in the United States, and with good reason. Because their education is hands-on, apprentices learn the whole range of practical and soft skills they need to transition directly into jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 9 out of 10 apprentices are employed upon finishing their training.
As apprenticeships gain momentum, employers are beginning to see that they can find skilled apprentices in a wide range of fields, even some high-tech areas that might surprise you. For example, the U.S. Office for Apprenticeships has recently registered apprenticeships in fields like computer programming, biotechnology and geospatial technology.
Thanks to the hands-on, real-world experience they learn under the direction of a skilled expert, apprentices build the communication, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities you may not see in the candidate fresh out of the ivory tower. The same is often true of students in vocational programs, as well as company staff who are eager for the chance to move up the ladder. Being able to see a direct pathway to success motivates these career-minded individuals to put their best effort forward, continuing to build on and improve their skills. And isn’t that just the kind of person you’d like to see as your next hire?