College Grads Just Aren’t as Good as I Was! The More Things Change. . .
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn.
A study examined employer satisfaction after hiring new college business graduates. The list below shows characteristics that employers ranked the lowest (out of 40 areas measured), in terms of mean levels of satisfaction with their new hires (measured on a four-point rating scale with 1 being low):
Applies theory to practice (2.80)
Creative thinking ability (2.80)
Speaks effectively (2.78)
Makes ethical decisions (2.76)
Loyal to company (2.73)
Secure enough to take risks (2.67)
Willing to relocate (2.67)
Maturity and experience for major responsibility (2.62)
Sells ideas (2.61)
Assesses important factors affecting the company (2.60)
Accepts routine job aspects (2.59)
Negotiates to reduce and resolve conflicts (2.55)
Writes effectively (2.48)
Realistic salary expectations (2.44)
Realistic advancement expectations (2.25)
This is the part where all of us over the age of 30 nod our heads. “Yep! No doubt. I don’t know if it is the parents’ fault, the colleges’ fault, or if it’s those damn cellphones and social media, but no question, these are definitely some of the big ones and I could add to that list!” So, let’s add to the list! How about leadership ability, adaptability to change, working without excessive guidance, and good problem-solving skills? Would you add those to the list as well? Good because those were the next few among those rated low on the list.
These Darn Kids Today
These darn kids and their devices and Netflix and Instagram; tweeting this and that, and staring at their phones. Society is going to hell in a hand basket, and everyone is sitting around watching it happen. No question this study has hit it right on the nose – these kids lack the skills and the adaptability, and they all think they are making it to the corner office in the first year (although most of Generations Y and Z would have no idea what a “corner office” even means so be careful with that expression).
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m having too much fun writing this one, so I have to come clean here. The study that I am quoting here is a real study. It was conducted with real employers, evaluating real, new-hire college graduates. But here’s the kicker, this study was published December 1, 1993. Yep, almost 27 years ago. Hmm let me think, I was 27 years old and . . .hey! Wait a minute! These people were pretty much talking about. . .me! That’s not fair! I should get a say-so here! So, if you think things have changed dramatically, maybe not so much.
re●call bi●as – noun - a systematic error that occurs when participants do not remember previous events or experiences accurately, or omit details: the accuracy and volume of memories may be influenced by subsequent events and experiences.
These kids today! Really? Speaking for myself, this whole thing is simply recall bias. I don’t know about you, but as I think about the first year or two in my first professional job – I mean really, really think about them – and consider my level of professionalism, behavior, willingness to take risk and try new things; it was assuredly not all that impressive. I got reprimanded for what I wore, I made an inappropriate joke with a client and got my hand slapped pretty hard, I found a way to carve out just enough goof-off time with my office mates, and for the first few years, the job was a means to an end; it wasn’t a team effort. I had no loyalty to see the company grow or advance – I had no idea that was even a thing or that I should care about it. The job was a way for me to make money and that was it! But eventually, I ended up staying 13 years with that firm and four promotions later, I left to eventually become COO and then CEO of a healthcare company. But I learned during that time. I changed during that time and it was the actual workplace and my willing participation that changed me.
What I am saying here is that a lot of the time, we expect college graduates to have the same level skills that we perceive we had when we graduated from college - that's rife with recall bias. Sure, some of you might have had some stellar skills here or there – but I would still argue that you are simply affected by recall bias and applying your current level of skill to your earlier years – but buy-in large, we mostly came out of college very green, mostly malleable, having plenty of book smarts but very little in the way of practical intellect. If you were never taught something, then how are you supposed to know it? You learned it experientially. Look people in the eye, be early to meetings, take good notes, ask good questions, always keep the boss in the loop, always say yes to new opportunities to learn. Heck, most of us thought that our learning ended when we turned in that last final exam senior year!
Are You Saying Young People Don’t Lack Skills?
I am not suggesting that new college graduates are fully career ready, at least not in terms of the requirements that I read in job descriptions or hear during my many discussions with recruiters and talent acquisition specialists. I guess what I am calling for here is a little bit of self-searching, and reflection on the part of those who are in positions of hiring influence. Mind you, this is not a call to lower standards, but just a call to actually be aware of our biases. Most of us graduated with a degree, but even within the first two years, we learned, experientially, 90% of what we actually needed to get along and progress in our field. It’s no different today. Sure, we have to struggle with distractions like earbuds, Amazon and YouTube, and compulsive choices like piercings and visible tattoos, but I had long lair (haha, I know, very funny - @baldcareerguy) and back then, no one could make me get rid of it. In my case, God got rid of it for me.
But looking at this realistically, the office I work in – Career Education and Development – provides well attended programming for our students on many of the things I mentioned here: why to stay off your cellphone, the importance of informing the boss, how to show initiative and willingness, nonverbal skills, how to navigate a complex, multicultural, multi-generational workplace. Folks, I sure didn’t come out of college with training like that, but my students do. It makes you think about this whole “skills gap” thing.
So, What’s the Point?
Help your local college or university understand what you are seeing out there but at the same time, be aware not only of your company needs, but also our tendency toward recall bias - we did not always have the level of skills that we possess today. Most colleges worth their salt have advisory boards in each of their majors. If you’ve got something to share, offer to be part of one of those advisory boards. But don’t just bring complaints about young people. That does absolutely no good. Bring ideas and solutions. If you want students to know why it is important to keep your boss in the loop, why it is important not to stare at your phone in a staff meeting, why filler words such as “like”, “umm” and “y’know” can convey immaturity and lack of confidence, and what self-control and emotional intelligence are and why they are important in the world of work. . .propose something! We’re teaching courses and trying to get them their 120 credits, and the core major-related skills that you have asked for. Maybe work with the career office and offer some joint programming. Sponsor it! Pay for a meal so that they come – food almost always fills the room with students on a college campus. Bring a tabletop display and promote your company while you lead a program in conjunction with a faculty or staff member. Let’s face it, only the most compelled students are going to show up for a program on professionalism and getting along in the professional world, and what a great way to meet them, especially you recruitment professionals, hiring managers and alumni! Use your past, and your present to positively impact our students’ future.
It’s your future. Take charge!
Davison, L. J. ., Brown, J. M. ., & Davison, M. L. . (1993). Employer Satisfaction Ratings of Recent Business Graduates. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 4(4), 391–399. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrdq.3920040409