Jul 09, 2013

    Uni grads need help with soft skills

    The New York Times

    MY ELDER son graduated from high school last week. In four years, we expect to attend his college graduation, and hope the time there leaves him with great experiences, and some idea how to get and keep a job.

    It's that last part of the equation that I'm going to focus on.

    Experts and employers say that four-year colleges and universities are failing to provide graduates with the skills they need to become and remain employable.

    The reason?

    "Employers are under pressure to do more with less," said Ms Mara Swan, executive vice-president of global strategy and talent at Manpower Group.

    Surprisingly, it isn't necessarily specific technical skills that are lacking.

    Job candidates "are lacking most in written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem solving", according to a report by The Chronicle Of Higher Education and American Public Media's Marketplace, published in March.

    Mr Jaime Fall, a vice-president at the HR Policy Association, an organisation of chief human-resource managers from large employers, said young employees "are very good at finding information, but not as good at putting that information into context".

    Ms Swan also noted that problems recent grads face can be with collaboration, interpersonal skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity, flexibility and professionalism.

    But "you can't create a school-based curriculum that can help someone transition to being highly productive on the job in 10 days", said Dr Alec Levenson, a senior research scientist for the Center for Effective Organisations at the University of Southern California.

    The in-depth training programmes and apprenticeships of the past are unlikely to come back, so companies must become more innovative in helping young employees get up to speed, according to a report released in May by Accenture, a management consulting and outsourcing company.

    "Rather than simply bemoaning the inability to find employees with the skills required for jobs, organisations must step up with new and more comprehensive enterprise learning strategies," Accenture stated.

    "The magic lies in finding a model that's appropriate for students to build skills, but palatable and effective for employers as well," said Ms Katherine LaVelle, who leads Accenture's Talent and Organisation group for North America.

    The most important issue is communication between all sides, said Ms Karin Fischer, a staff writer for The Chronicle Of Higher Education.

    "To what extent are employers and colleges having a conversation about what they really need?" she asked. "Maybe we need more back and forth."

    The author is an American journalist, poet, public speaker and writer.