Against the foreboding backdrop of a soft job market and economic uncertainty, a war of generations continues to be fought in the American workplace.
Bentley University, a business-focused university based in Waltham, Massachusetts, commissioned a massive survey (conducted between October 17 and 25, 2013) of more than 3,000 millennial students, recent graduates, employers, educators and parents as a part of the formal launch of The PreparedU Project. Bentley officials describe the project as an opportunity for different stakeholder groups to talk candidly about preparation for today’s workplace.
The study, conducted by KRC Research and released this evening, reflects some key differences between generations:
77% of high-school students and 74% of college students express confidence that a college degree is a sign of preparedness for the job market. Some 62% of business decision makers agree—a subtle but important gap in perception.
37% of respondents say that a college degree is a strong predictor of success in life. However, only 28% of business decision makers take this view, compared with 60% of high school students and 52% of college students.
24% of those surveyed said that education is a key element of preparation; 23% said skills; 17% said personality traits; and 15% said work ethic. Yet tellingly, there were differences in which groups valued work ethic. (A separate post tomorrow will examine the work ethic issue in greater detail.)
45% of business decision makers and 39% of recruiters give recent college graduates a grade of “C” or lower in rating their hard skills (technical skills specific to a profession or function, as well as math and writing). But only 20% of recent college graduates would give themselves a “C” or lower on their hard skills.
57% of recent college graduates say they wish they had acquired more hard skills in college. But 55% business decision makers and 60% of corporate recruiters say they wish the grads had developed more soft skills in college (soft skills refer to work philosophy, work style, attitude, and other traits).
“The research indicates that we need to work together, says Bentley University President Gloria Larson, “to close the preparedness gap – ‘we’ meaning businesses, education, parents and students, and recent college graduates. Larson, who will host a panel discussion on the findings in New York tomorrow, adds, “The good news is that there is a surprising degree of accountability, self-reflection and self-responsibility across all these audiences, who recognize that they need to make some changes in order to implement solutions.”
Most stakeholder groups surveyed take some responsibility for the lack of a perfect fit of recent graduates to jobs—however, they take this responsibility to varying degrees:
62% of respondents say that millennials’ lack of preparedness for the workforce is “a real problem.” Among business decision makers and corporate recruiters, 64% say this is a problem for their own company, and 74% say this impairs the larger U.S. economy.
A full 61% of recent college graduates would give their group a “C” or lower on their preparedness for their first job. But only 37% of recent graduates would say that their own personal level of preparedness for their first job would rate a “C” or lower.
51% of all respondents give colleges a “C” or lower grade in preparing students for the workplace. Only 41% of college students themselves give such a low grade to their schools, though.
About 9 in 10 respondents say colleges could improve career prep without raising prices or damaging educational quality. This includes 89% of influencers in higher education.
The survey also found some contradictions and lip service among employers regarding what they value in an employee and what they would actually hire.
Asked to rank hard skills and soft skills, employers put soft skills on top. Business decision makers and recruiters are actually less likely to say that job-specific knowledge is important than are other stakeholders.
But impatience and reality then set in, and 65% of business decision makers and corporate recruiters admit to a preference for hiring a college graduate with industry-specific skills rather than a liberal arts graduate who needs to be trained first.
Employers cite integrity as the most important soft skill, with 84% of business decision makers and 78% of recruiters saying it’s very important for success in the workplace.
The survey also finds some nagging concerns on the part of college students and their parents: Nearly two thirds of students and parents believe the educational experience is worth the cost; but a full 35% disagree.
[Please share your own insights and experiences with our Forbes.com community in the comments section. And hit "Follow" at the top of the page to receive notification of more career and management advice from Rob Asghar.]
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