Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How to create a career-ready workforce

MAKE YOUR FORTUNE: By impressing employers
Fortune contributor Anne Fisher recently reported on a study that found recent grads aren’t quite ready for the working world. In her article, she talks about the disconnect between what employers want and what recently graduated applicants are offering. This is an important issue to address, but I think the study and the article are missing crucial pieces of the puzzle, some of which I left in a comment on the article.

What it ultimately comes down to is the need for a stronger connection between employers, students, and educators in order to align the skills of graduating students with what employers require in a job candidate.

Educators are the bridge between students and employers. The gap between what one needs and the other offers can be narrowed when both groups make efforts, in concert, to work together. This is why it is crucial that employers communicate these employability issues candidly and consistently. And it is equally important that educators are receptive to the feedback and use the information to adjust academic programming.

But this is just the beginning! Here are a few resources that employers and educators can leverage (and that students should take advantage of) to close the gap:
  1. Employer surveys. Employers should consistently provide feedback. This is a great way to inform educators about any instructional gaps or needs that should be addressed in the classroom or within career services programming.
  2. Experiential opportunities. Employers and educators must work together to develop internships and co-ops that enable students with an opportunity to truly experience the workplace. This is where students can sharpen their critical thinking skills, practice teamwork and collaboration, and enhance their written communication skills.
  3. Advisory boards. Both employers and educators must boost their use of advisory boards. Educators should use them as an opportunity to better understand employer needs and employers should use them as a way to have their voice heard and to better educate (no pun intended) those responsible for shaping the academic experience.

Finally, students are the biggest part of this equation. They must work closely with their career services departments to better understand the needs of employers. This means:
  1. Arming themselves with the required tools, such as critical thinking, problem solving, the ability to work collaboratively, and effective writing skills.
  2. Seeking guidance on how to prepare resumes and cover letters in a manner that speaks to the skills highlighted in the article.
  3. Getting support in preparing for interviews so that they can persuasively articulate possession of these required skills.

Frankly, the article is a good wake up call, a reminder that our economy is dependent not just on an educated workforce but on a career-ready workforce.

College graduates entering the workforce need instruction and support to help them acquire necessary skills. That some are unprepared is not a failure of the educational system. The issue is more dimensional than that. In order for college graduates to be work-ready, employers, educators, and students must work together to identify the gaps and help fill them collaboratively.

Otherwise, the missing skill and real issue for all of us involved is accountability. It takes three -- students, educators, and employers all need to play their part and accept their responsibility in maintaining a successful relationship. At Peirce and in many other reputable institutions, career services programming addresses that accountability and is an important part of the solution.