Bonus Content

Not So Cool After School?

By Carolyn Heinze

A recent survey conducted by The Gallup Organization found that 66% of business leaders “have doubts that higher education institutions in the United States are graduating students who meet their particular businesses’ needs…” In short: graduates aren’t ready for the real world.

Crystal Kadakia is founder of Career Indulgence (careerindulgence.com), a consultancy based in Tampa, Fla. A member of Gen Y, Kadakia is a sort of liaison between higher education and the business world, coaching graduates, speaking at universities, and designing onboarding programs for organizations.

“While curricula has evolved from theoretical knowledge to practical assignments, the world of work has leaped further and is now focused on an industry composed of project managers,” she said. “These are the types of skills that are not taught in college: influencing others to get work done, accountability, project organization, and leadership capability, among others.”

Learning these skills is viewed as optional, she added––students can acquire them, if they want, through participating in organizations on campus, or via an internship. As a result, she’s noted that college grads are often weak in the areas of accountability (“being able to say ‘I’ own something versus ‘we’), organization, focus, and communication. (“Texting and email has made Millennials have more abrupt verbal communication with lack of context and explanation as issues as well.”)

“They’re not prepared––absolutely not. That I can say with full confidence,” said Dan Schwabel, managing partner at Millennial Branding (millennialbranding.com), a consultancy based in Boston, Mass. (He is also a member of Gen Y.) Schwabel’s firm conducted a recent study that is even more pessimistic than the one done by Gallup: it found that 73% of hiring managers found that colleges were only “somewhat preparing” students for the workplace.

Whose fault is it? Schwabel believes it’s everyone’s: “I’m not going to just say it’s the schools’ fault. Students believe that not just themselves, but their college is responsible for helping them get a job. And companies, their expectations are changing, their skill requirements are changing, but they’re not doing a good job of updating job descriptions or communicating those changes to colleges and students directly.”

Schwabel urges companies and colleges to come together. “Companies need to start to dictate curriculums for the schools that they hire from, and students have to be more aggressive in their careers,” he said.

Schwabel’s study also found that while academic success still factored in to hiring decisions, 64% of hiring managers said that they would still look at candidates who hadn’t attended college. He notes that this spells trouble for higher education: “In a sense, a lot of people are going to start not going to college because of the cost and the debt that they acquire when they graduate, and the fact that they’re not going to be prepared,” he said.

“This is big, I think,” he added. “There are so many alternatives. You can learn almost everything online now. The technology has democratized information and education such that if you’re a really aggressive learner and you don’t want to take on all of this debt, and you don’t want to spend four years of your life in the education system like your peers, you can do this. It’s not going to work for everyone, but there is going to be tiers of education.”

For Kadakia, dwelling on the question “What’s the matter with kids today?” is less interesting than helping organizations recognize and leverage the skills that college grads do possess.

“The key change businesses need to be aware of is that the length of time to deliver a project can and has been shortened through the introduction of technology,” she says, pointing to the increased speed at which decisions can be made, and risks can be assessed. “Millennials have grown up expecting this pace of change—it’s time businesses adapt to the new pace of the world. When Millennials as for promotion, for challenging work, for feedback, this is all about wanting to make an impact and spend their time in a worthwhile way. Companies should be jumping to give real work to these individuals and see advanced internal rates of innovation as a result.”

Vicky Maderia is senior human resources director at NESCO-Needham Electric Supply, headquartered in Canton, Mass. She explains that one of the distributor’s focuses over the past year has been to connect with local colleges and attend their job fairs to gain an understanding of what skills those coming out of college have. Some schools, she says, do a better job than others preparing their students for the workforce, but she also notes––not surprisingly––that graduates are well-versed in using technology. The challenge she and other companies face is that their salary expectations are not in line with reality.

“They’re coming out of college wanting to out on their own, and they can’t afford it,” she said. “The financial support isn’t there right now based on their skill sets and the job that they’re able to attain.” At NESCO, there have been efforts made to increase starting rates to address this––and to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Maderia believes that what some may view as frustrating can be seized as an opportunity to re-think and improve upon certain organizational practices. “It’s refreshing to hear what they’re looking for, whether it be working from home, or flex time, or, ‘I’m on a basketball league and I want to leave at four o’clock on Thursdays so I can make my games,’ and it’s actually opening up our eyes at our company so that we’re in tune with what this new workforce is going to be bringing to us,” she says. “Most recently, in our leadership meetings, we’ve been talking about that and we’re doing some pilot programs to see if our business needs can support a more flexible workforce.”

This has served to re-inspire existing, and older, employees in their work, Maderia believes. “I see some of the more old school managers changing their ways a little bit and being a little more open––they’re re-engaged,” she says. “They’re energized by the whole thing. A lot of electrical distributors are companies that are 50-plus years old, and it’s time to bring in some fresh ideas and fresh blood, so to speak, to recharge your company.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at carolynheinze@free.fr.

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