Employers: Grads aren’t ready to work

Eleven percent of business leaders strongly agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their companies need, according to a new Gallup/Lumina poll. Yet, in a Gallup/Inside Higher Ed survey, 96 percent of university officers believe that they’re effectively preparing students for success in the workplace.

“Something is very wrong when you see the academic leaders of higher education giving themselves an A+ on this while business leaders give them an F,” said Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.

Just 16 percent of business leaders strongly agree that jobs at their business require a post-secondary degree or credential to be successful; 38 percent strongly disagree.

Business leaders were asked what talent, knowledge or skills will prepare graduates for success in the workforce. The most popular response was that higher education institutions should provide internships and practical, on-the-job experience. In addition to experience, business leaders most want to hire people with strong communication skills, including writing and speaking skills.

Employers value both hard and soft skills, writes Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at College for America, in the Huffington Post.

I’ve had conversation after conversation with leaders in manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, government, retail and other industries, and the song remains the same. The skills sets that matter across all of these sectors are too often missing from their entry-level employees, whether they have degrees or not. These include hard skills — such as producing an extended piece of writing or interpreting information contained in graphs and charts — and soft skills — such as negotiating with others to settle conflicts and disputes.

To produce job-ready graduates, colleges and universities “must teach and hone skills through learning activities that mimic real-world scenarios rather than testing students on abstract principles,” writes Alssid.

Competency-based, project-based education can narrow the skills gap, argues College for America.

Tech college puts work ethic on transcripts

Graduates of a Missouri technical college can show employers a transcript that includes a “job readiness” score and attendance as well as academic grades, reports Inside Higher EdLinn State Technical College hopes the new transcript will help students find jobs.

Instructors evaluate students’ job readiness and work ethic in six areas: safety, trust, timeliness, work habits, interpersonal and citizenship.

Job readiness is scored on a four-point scale. For example, a student must be described as “respectful” and “polite” to land a four in the interpersonal category. Lack of civility and the use of “slurs,” conversely, are on the checklist for a zero in interpersonal. As for safety, which is optional for general education courses, students get points for looking out for the safety of themselves and others, and score worse for the careless use of tools and equipment.

Under work habits, a student who’s diligent, organized and takes pride in a job well done earns a 4. A 3 usually goes beyond the minimum and has a good attitude. At the 2 level, the student is improving but needs supervision. A 1 needs supervision. Under 0, the student is lazy, takes no pride in work, ignores warnings and “thinks minimum is maximum.”

Evaluating workplace readiness is just starting to catch on at a few colleges, reports Inside Higher EdAsheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in North Carolina will issue grades and certificates for “soft skills,” such punctuality and teamwork, to help graduates find jobs.

Employers are complaining that new workers lack a strong work ethic, said Donald Claycomb, Linn State’s president. The college worked with industry partners to decide which skills to evaluate.

Instead of college

In a backlash to the college-for-all push, some are working to build an “alternative to colleges for young people who are not academically inclined,”, writes Charlotte Allen on Minding the Campus.

ACT has developed WorkKeys, which includes the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), to enable young people to show they’ve mastered skills needed for employment, such as applied mathematics (eighth-grade math), reading for information and locating information.

Now college is seen as the only path to a decent job for high school graduates.

. . . thanks to nearly six decades of federal and state policies designed to make college a universal experience—policies that include loans, grants, and the massive expansion of public campuses—about 68 percent of high school graduates duly enroll in a two-year or four-year institution of higher learning, 90 percent of them as full-time students, according to Labor Department statistics for 2010.

Only a fraction of community college students and 53 percent of students who enter four-year institutions ever earn a degree. The rest leave college with little to show for it but debt, Allen writes. Even the graduates may lack useful work skills.

In September the CEO of Caterpillar Inc., Doug Oberhelman, told a business audience in Calgary, Alberta:  “We cannot find qualified hourly production people, and for that matter many technical, engineering service technicians, and even welders, and it is hurting our manufacturing base in the United States. The education system in the United States basically has failed them and we have to retrain every person we hire.”

Thirty-five states use ACT’s certificate or use it as a model for a state certificate of job readiness, but it is “not recognized by either employers or higher education,” said Davis Jenkins of Columbia’s Community College Research Center.  Employers “recognize industry certificates, and they recognize degrees, which they use mainly to screen job candidates for motivation and some sort of basic literacy.”

The Manufacturing Institute is using the NCRC as a baseline “competency” for would-be welders, machinists, quality-control specialists and mechanical designers.  Trainees can go on to take occupation-specific competency tests in industrial trades. The goal is to create a series of ”stackable” certificates and degrees that will build a career ladder.

For example, an 18-year-old armed with only a high school diploma (or even a GED) plus an NCRC certificate could attend a community college or technical institute part time to obtain a short-term technical certificate in welding, take and pass the AWS’s basic welding test, and go to work as an entry-level welder at around $16 an hour. The next step up the ladder might be a one-year technical certificate, also from a community college or technical institute, plus a safety certificate from the MSSC, which would qualify the young welder for a larger array of skilled manufacturing jobs. After that might come a two-year associate degree in applied science and more advanced certificates from the American Welding Society and then after that might come a two-year associate degree in applied science that, coupled with more advanced certificates from the AWS and the MSSC, would mean access to an even greater array of skilled, better paying jobs. The final step might be an engineering degree from a university–a bachelor’s, master’s, or even a doctoral degree,

The Gates Foundation and the Lumina Foundation are funding pilot programs. For example, Shoreline Community College just north of Seattle, has integrated the NCRC and certification from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills into its manufacturing program. Employers know graduates have the skills; students also can use credits to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree.  The completion rate is 95 percent; 100 percent of graduates find jobs.

Tennessee’s 27 Technology Centers, which enable students to earn vocational certificates, also are a model of success with high completion and employment rates. Students spend two to 18 months in a highly structured program.