The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired

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It’s because college kids today can’t do math, one line of reasoning goes. Or they don’t know science. Or they’re clueless about technology, aside from their myriad social-media profiles. These are all good theories, but the problem with the unemployability of these young adults goes way beyond a lack of STEM skills. As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time in a button-down shirt and organize a team project. 

The technical term for navigating a workplace effectively might be soft skills, but employers are facing some hard facts: the entry-level candidates who are on tap to join the ranks of full-time work are clueless about the fundamentals of office life.

survey by the Workforce Solutions Group at St. Louis Community College finds that more than 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills” — a jump of about 10 percentage points in just two years. A wide margin of managers also say today’s applicants can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.

Another employer survey, this one by staffing company Adecco, turns up similar results. The company says in a statement, “44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap.” Only half as many say a lack of technical skills is the pain point.

As much as academics go on about the lack of math and science skills, bosses are more concerned with organizational and interpersonal proficiency. The National Association of Colleges and Employers surveyed more than 200 employers about their top 10 priorities in new hires. Overwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list.

Jobs are going unfilled as a result, which hurts companies and employees. The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly 1 in 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with soft skills. Specifically, companies say candidates are lacking in motivation, interpersonal skills, appearance, punctuality and flexibility.

(MORE: Black Swan Event: The Beginning of the End of Unpaid Internships)

One thing that does appear to make a difference is internships, according to a Harris Interactive survey of more than 2,000 college students and 1,000 hiring managers on behalf of textbook company Chegg: more than 80% of employers want new grads they hire to have completed a formal internship, but only 8% of students say interning in a field related to their major is something they spend a lot of time doing. Instead, the top extracurricular activities are hanging out with friends, working in an unrelated job and eating out.

And all internships are not created equal. Overall, only about half of college grads say they’re prepared for the workplace — and the number of bosses who think they’re prepared is lower than 40%.

Among students who don’t intern, only 44% consider themselves ready for the job market. That improves for students with unpaid internships; 58% say they’re prepared for the workplace. But among students who complete paid internships, that number jumps to 70%.

Part of the problem is that you don’t know what you don’t know, as the saying goes. Harris Interactive found a huge gap between students’ perceptions of their abilities and managers’ perceptions of those same skills.

(MORE: Three Little Words to Never Say in an Interview)

None of the students think they’re entirely prepared for the workforce, but they’re a lot more confident than the managers surveyed.

There’s a 22-percentage-point difference between the two groups’ assessment of the students’ financial skills, which Inside Higher Ed calls “alarming,” in an article about the research. Managers also take a much dimmer view of students’ abilities to communicate with authority figures, prioritize and organize their work, manage projects, work in teams and with diverse groups.

It’s just harder to teach these skills, experts say. “It is hard to correct a lifetime of bad habits in a short period of time,” Roderick Nunn, vice chancellor for economic development and workforce solutions at St. Louis Community College, tells the St. Louis Beacon.

785 comments
EricKorbly
EricKorbly

I'm calling this article complete garbage. Who are these so called managers who make blanket statements about recent grads? I show up on time & I wear very nice

threads. They say internships help but say a lot of students hang out with friends instead. What a load, internships especially paid ones are probably hard to come by, & I bet a lot of students take work study jobs through financial aide to help pay for their education.

As I look through the comments I'm astounded people think Time is believable. No.

Job applicants out number jobs by a staggering number. Up to 1,000 people apply for almost any opening. No way do 1 out of 5 openings never get filled.

MrEmon
MrEmon

Back in 1999 I authored what would have been the answer to this issue of what you call soft skills, todays graduates are lacking. I wrote it in detail so Congress could pass laws that relate to it. I had Congressman Shadegg's (AZ) aid Birgitte give me information on how Congress needed such a plan. I then turned it over to Birgitte, she got the plan to Washington, About a month later I recieved a call from Michael Bronner, asking me if he could move the plan forward. He was so kind to add just before he hung up, that the plan would be as a private enterprise, and if I were to ever bring it up that I wrote it, he would deny we ever spoke. On January 1st 2000, Bronner founded Upromise, using my plan, literally word for word. Bronner not only stole from me, but he stole from the entire country. In 2006 Upromise was sold to Sallie Mae for a little over 300 million, today over 10 million members belong to the plan. As for the graduates that lack the soft skills to get a real world job, have them give Bronner a call, he will explain how my plan was to provide a win win for everyone involved. I would spell it out for you, but it was stolen from me once. I've had enough of living in the safety net we have in place for us disabled folks. The plan works, I am ready to change the world again. I can be found on Facebook as Kim Emon. God Speed

MikeGreen1
MikeGreen1

what about h1b visa holders replacing american workers?

dhtshampoo
dhtshampoo

This article is pure nonsense. The proposed reasoning of why college students can’t get a job has been significantly used by Corporate America to cover up its questionable hiring practices. If college students are truly unprepared Corporate America, let’s stop making excuses and work with our colleges to develop a curriculum that will better prepare students for the real world. The real problem here is that Corporate America does not want to spend money to train workers as they did in the past. HR recruiters are foolishly looking for an “exact match” in the labor pool, which leaves many students unemployed.

As far as a shortage of qualified talent in the labor pool, this is also nonsense. Keep in mind that there are a significant number of workers who still have not recovered from the 2009 economic crisis. The problem for these workers is that Corporate America wants to reduce labor expenses as much as possible. In essence, the pursuit over cheap labor over qualified talent could be the driving cause of “lack of talent to fill jobs.” This of course leaves more money for the wallets of executive management. I would encourage the author of this article and business leaders to examine the entire post college employment problem and look for ways to help better prepare students, instead of hiding behind tiresome excuses. 

Markinthepark
Markinthepark

When I read these kinds of articles I just laugh.Martha C. White has really no clue.  I don’t blame her or the business people she interviewed because most people don’t understand why we have unemployment and even less do they understand what unemployment is.  Unemployment is really nothing more than an oversupply of labor. College graduates cannot find employment because there is too many of them in relation to the current demand.  The only way to lower unemployment rate among college graduates is to either reduce the number of college graduates or increase labor-intensive productivity.  So long outsourcing of US and Western European jobs continue to third world countries the unemployment and under-unemployment will continue to be high. What we have created in the West is a debt-driven economy based on consumption rather than an economy based on production.  

When a factory is shipped out to China it is not only the industrial workers which lose their livelihood but the entire community which included college graduates.  China has actually a problem with unemployed and under-unemployed college graduates. In the 1980s many unemployed Chinese college graduates moved to United States. Today, China is smart enough to turn many of their universities and colleges into polytechnics providing skills which are actually in demand in the current Chinese labor-market. Will it be successful? Well, currently the unemployment is lowest among unskilled labor and highest among skilled labor but as the technological advancements progress people with vocational diplomas will see much improvement as they become key-workers in China. This is really nothing new because this was actually the case in 1950 in United States. Skilled industrial workers made good salaries and had often salaries in par with college graduates. This will be the case in China and India.

If we really had any intrest in lowering unemployment among college graduates we have two alternatives.  We can have allows a free market system meaning that we get government out of higher education. Loans wouldn’t be backed by government. This would mean that people without any economic means wouldn’t be able to go to college. I think this would be the solution in United States and other countries which cherish free-market capitalism. In Asia and Europe I think China and India doing what needs to be done.  Get rid of non-elite and non-essential colleges and universities and replace them with vocational training instead. Remember that the future industrial or heavy machine worker will more likely supervise robots rather than swing a hammer.

Still, I don’t think politicians in Western Europe and United States will do anything about this. I really don’t think they care. Higher education has been a tool since the 1970 to hide unemployment and it has been a good tool. Still, I don’t think they will able to tap it much longer because time is running out. There are just not enough jobs requiring higher education and politicians have refused plough money into medicine fields because of cost. The coming financial crisis will most likely turn things pretty ugly in United States and Europe. I wonder what Martha C. White will write when United States has similar unemployment levels as Southern Europe. That Americans are lazy and lack communications skills? 

JeremyPaler
JeremyPaler

@Markinthepark Your solution to the economy is denying the poor-majority student body access to college and instead directing them toward factories? Why do you think their factory-working and waitress parents directed them to college in the first place? 


Elitist, silly nonsense. 

EfraimKristal
EfraimKristal

@JeremyPaler @Markinthepark Jeremy, whether you regard Mark's proposition as "elitist" or not is entirely up to you. But your condemnation of "nonsense" is itself nonsense unless you can offer an objective argument to dismiss Mark's assertions. Just because something is considered desirable, or being a part of a given community is desirable, doesn't at all argue that more and more of us attempting to acquire such a thing or realize such a wish is sustainable. Putting aside pride and individual desires, Mark's model seems reasonable. We can't all be elite corporate CEOs, even if we were all qualified to do so. 


Another point, it's we, the average citizens, who empower elitism where education and employment are concerned. There's no reason the acquisition of a college degree must be considered a superior investment of one's time than, say, becoming a journeyman in a high-demand trade. And there's no reason a plumber who helps keep the community working smoothly should enjoy less esteem and regard than an attorney. Where I see elitism is in those who flock to college because they consider certain tasks beneath them, the vitality of those tasks notwithstanding. So instead of lambasting models like Mark's as elitist, at the least we should assess how our own attitudes contribute to elitist hierarchies.

SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT
SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT

Everyone here is complaining about the same thing: the lack of jobs. The fact is, people are getting hired believe it or not, these jobs are definitely not going unfilled. I am currently a college student and complaining about college and student debt and unemployment is ignorant; it's not just students that are unemployed and in debt, many other people are too. I'm currently employed in a law firm that collects one student loan debt ironically. There is no shortage of lawyers (my goal) or doctors. There is no shortage of anything, except in small scale and special circumstances perhaps. As long as there is profit in it, the job will be filled. Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, look up the statistics and use your common sense. Our economy and our government does not operate on production, after all most production is outsourced! They operate on greed and exploitation and brainwashing lower classes to think national and international problems are our own fault! If there were one great database of job openings, all of those jobs would be filled, and we would still have unemployment and debt problems. They don't want to hire us, they don't want to pay us well, they want to exploit the world's cheapest labor so they can continue to increase their own personal profit!

SaraKramer
SaraKramer

Maybe it's not so much that recent college grads lack the "soft skills" but that they are having a hard time demonstrating how they've developed those skills throughout their academic life. It's hard to approach an employer straight out of college, having no experience, and try to give specific, relevant examples of your skills. As a college sophomore, I haven't had a lot of experience personally trying to find a real job yet, but I've worked 4 internships so far and learned a lot about interviewing and communicating with potential employers. I have experience with the recruiting industry specifically and I can say that hiring managers are looking for people that fit into their culture and have the skills to work well with their team (these "soft skills" the article mentions). However, I think the disconnect that's happening here with this generation and the next is being able to both prove we do have the soft skills and experience even though we haven't been in the work place, and demonstrating we're real people who stand out from others because of our unique experiences. I use this tool called Portfolium where I can post relevant school projects, cool experiences, and really anything I would want an employer to know about me but wouldn't necessarily put on a resume. I bring it with me to career fairs and interviews (with permission) to supplement my resume and bring my skills and experiences to life. This is a creative and innovative way to jump off the page for most employers (I've found), and it helps me PROVE I do, in fact, have those "soft skills".  Check it out: https://portfolium.com/

towngirl1
towngirl1

The unfortunate truth is you don't get a job because they person hiring doesn't want to hire you. OK, so why not? This article reports on what some percentage of employers are saying about the reason. Quote: 60% of employers say applicants lack “communication and interpersonal skills. (You can research to see what the pool surveyed comprised to see if it has merit.)

Whether you like it or not, those are the reasons being stated. The hard part is, does this apply to you person who has been interviewing and hasn't gotten a job? I read a lot from people complaining that it's because the company hiring wants you to have 5 years experience, yet that's not what the business responders say.  Where's the disconnect? 

Can it be you have expectations that are unrealistic for the current economic environment? One poster here talked about a hire they made who was a go getter, who they lost to Annapolis. She, I believe it was a she, got lambasted with some bizarre accusations.

What I read is a number of excuses. No one told me, I did what I was supposed to, this is the way it should work, you all suck kind of stuff. Do you expect excuses to get you a job? Do you expect your complaint to change the way the working world operates? Or are you taking you ball and going home because something wasn't fair. Well good luck with that strategy.


All of this applies to job seekers of any age or generation. It's up to you to figure out what makes you marketable. It's up to you to research a company so you can identify their needs and touch on them in an interview. It's up to you to make yourself the candidate they need. It's unrealistic to expect a company to change its way of operating (of course unless they are enslaving people, keeping them in a dark damp basement and not feeding them - that's wrong AND against the law.)


I do see how current college grads are walking into a changing world. You truly do have global competition so you have to beat out candidates who come from a different cultural view of education and hard work. Again it's up to you to do something to make yourself competitive.  And those of you still in high school - do some research to see where the future jobs will be and follow the path that will prepare you for them.


And the education and skill enhancing never stops, ever. You have to continue to make yourself relevant to keep up with the needs of employers. Basically, you are not owed a job because you went to college. Personally I do think you're owed a job if you are a veteran - as well as a red carpet rolled out in front of you everywhere you go. Thank you.


What I tell my nieces, nephews, friends with school age children is don't go into heavy debt for college unless it's to prepare you for the realities of the working world or if you're following a strong dream while understanding possible financial consequences.




 

EricKorbly
EricKorbly

Why do you believe anything written here?

JonesJamesWonderBoy
JonesJamesWonderBoy

I've been out of College since 2013 with a major in Management Information System and still there is no job. All entry level positions are requesting 5 years or so in experience. It is very saddening and made a conclusion not to preach College education to my children except if they want to become a Doctor or some high in demand specialty. I also think the jobless rate are even worse for a Military veteran because these hiring managers automatically think we have PTSD and will have a hard time adjusting to the civilian life. 


I know some of the smartest people with a College degree and can't land a job. I feel like the smarter you are the less chances of you obtaining a job due to fears that your performance may just outperform those who hire you. I feel sorry for the future of our nation, job training and mentor is out of the door. I am 30 years old and I feel like a failure because only job that will hire me are the minimum wage jobs and even that is not easy to come by unless you dispose of your education qualifications on your résumé before they label you as over qualified.


One thing I have noticed is that strong internal connection is necessary in today's job market and education does not mean a thing anymore. My advice is trade schools or technical schools, if I had known that before I went to College I would've focused my attention and resources on becoming a Linux Administrator at a tech school but I'll have to save up for the fees.

JulieC
JulieC

I'm Gen X. My college education was a waste of my time and money.

I was pretty and booksmart so everyone told me to go to college.

So, I did. I had no family backing me. It was all my own dime, and I used my hands in the Office Trades to get myself paid enough to eat, live and pay tuition.. I got my Associates' of Science, graduated into a field already full of people trained just like me, and made my second mistake (the first was taking up the habit of drinking lots of alcohol...almost killed me...but that is a different story), I enrolled at a four year college and began to take out student loans.


I stopped going to college once I saw the debt load increasing, and realized I may not be able to find a job in the field I didn't know if I was interested in or not. This is when I noticed another side of the work field.


Manual Labor. And, I switched, after a short hospital stay, a cousin's death and my pancreas convinced me to quit drinking alcohol, to Manual Labor, concentrating on the unionized fields because I was pretty sure I'd get paid equally to the men doing the same work I would be doing...got my CDL...did a delivery driver stint and a garbage collector stint...looked into Skilled Trades, but decided to be a truck driver, instead. It took eleven years, but the student loans are all paid off, and I wish I had known about reading Meters...in my area of the USA, my job was taken over by telemetry meters...but...it is a job I could have done right out of High School and been perfectly happy doing while not wasting 2.5 years of money going for a Bachelor's Degree that would have been useless to me now...and is, apparently. At any rate, I used my hands in the Manual Labor trades, too.


And, since a view hindsight reveals I have many a job under my hands...they all, ultimately used the work of my hands to get myself paid enough to eat, live and pay off the loans with which I burdened myself.

So, how do we the Human People change things? Or do we follow blindly this not quite correct path of shadows the USA may have been on from its inception? Specifically, when did it all become about managing credit and repaying loans for just about anything come to be the way it is? If this is the American Dream, I'm glad it spit me and my family out.



TeelaEnglish
TeelaEnglish

College students can't find jobs because of idiotic employers asking for 5 years experience for an entry level job! We do all this hard work in school and graduate with a good even great grades and still that means nothing if you haven't been working that profession for 5 years. How do they expect us to get this experience if they aren't willing to give college graduates a chance to put this knowledge we acquired in school to the test! It's so backwards now to the point where it makes no sense to even go to college, people are better off just wishing and praying to get the experience instead of the expensive education they say we need as well. 

kawegit
kawegit

The real reason college grads can't find jobs... because we are told that in order to be successful you must have a degree (which will separate you from the unintelligent masses) which in turn sends everyone scrambling to find their life's passion at the mature age of 18 so that they will invest wisely and not spend the next four years of their lives droning over boring, uninspiring college materiel and end up starting a career in something they are truly interested in. Then reality sets in, that just like you, thousands of other kids have done the same exact thing and are all competing over a handful of jobs in digital arts and design because you all could see yourselves enjoying painting on a computer for the next 60 years of your life. Unfortunately, if you don't land that job you originally planned for (or didn't plan for but sort of assumed would just be there) you are confused and left feeling owed something because you were never taught at a ripe young age that success is more about providing value to other people than just jumping through societal hoops. You see all these people who never went to college making more money than you and not owing any loan debt because instead or learning about mitochondria or how to write a paper in APA format they spent the last four years learning how to sell a good or service that people actually want. Or maybe not, maybe they just need to learn how to be more social and that will get them that awesome desk job in a skyscraper downtown. 

whosginashe
whosginashe

As a recent graduate it was so hard to find a stable job so today I made a choice and that choice was to put in motion a series of events that will lead to me quitting my job. If you’re interested in what I’m talking about please check out my link below. I promise you won’t regret. 

http://gsnipersecret.com/ginashe

gsawyer1042
gsawyer1042

Mr. White,

I think the soft skills you focus on in your article are very important but not more important that having the knowledge, skills and capabilities obtained from doing well in your discipline which means understanding what you learned at the conceptual level so you can recognize an application of those concepts when you see it again.  Additionally, you will be able to create interdisciplinary solutions to problems because you learned in college how the disciplines fit together.  In other words, you learned how to think critically and innovatively.  As other commenters noted, you learn the soft skills outside of class through interactions with peers and mentors more than in class where the priority is getting the conceptual understand of what is studied so you can be that critical thinker. 


Dr. Granville M. Sawyer Jr.

Author of College In Four Years: Making Every Semester Count

www.granvillesawyer.com

Twitter: @ProfGMS

EfraimKristal
EfraimKristal

@gsawyer1042 Dr. Sawyer, did you actually read the article? MRS. White is reporting what employers have to say about recent graduates' professional deficiency. It seems these companies are NOT primarily concerned about graduates' mastery of "the knowledge, skills and capabilities obtained from doing well in [their disciplines] which means understanding what [they] learned at the conceptual level..." In fact, Mrs. White reports that according to the survey respondents, "[o]verwhelmingly, they want candidates who are team players, problem solvers and can plan, organize and prioritize their work. Technical and computer-related know-how placed much further down the list."

WilliamZhang
WilliamZhang

Maybe you gotta do more than just get a 4.0gpa or a internship. Personally I have networked with over 350 people to get a good internship....But what else did I do? I graduated from NYU stern with a 3.93 gpa summa cum laude  Finance with a minor in statistics,alpha kappa psi fraternity, a member and alumni of my schools investment clubs,a massive protfolio in trading,and have unique skills with risk management. Then I see a guy whining not getting a job with a  3.5 GPA with no clubs,extracurriculars and didnt even try to network. I  am now a junior trader at the risk arbitrage department at paulsons. 

WilliamZhang
WilliamZhang

Most of the time the kids umemployed are most likely are in useless english type majors,political science,art majors and even humanities. ESPECIALLY THOSE idiot psychology majors. The majority of kids in college are useless and dont even want to be there. HECK I SAW A POST  the other day ABOUT A KID CRYING FAILING law school and CRIED about 250k in debt.... Can you believe the entitlement of these kids? Like why on earth would you take a 250k loan and FAIL LAW school....

RadhaDebaChatterjee
RadhaDebaChatterjee

@WilliamZhang I agree with your comment but many are not suited for a math or science degree! Maybe they don't like it! This is where we need more Vocational Hands on Programs....many people learn a lot better on the job that in a boring lecture or lab. Because that's the problem now either you have a degree but no experience, or lots of experience some degree/or none, or neither! I think its just getting more competitive, and everybody is not suited to be a Doctor, Engineer, or CEO! But if college is not affordable and all they can do is work at Target to pay off the student loan, I see a problem! The mind set that everyone needs to have a College degree needs to change and more opportunities for social skills and hands on trades need to be reinforced!

SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT
SOCIAL_DEMOCRAT

@WilliamZhang @noformaleducation Honestly... you have a problem with "gotta do"? If you don't understand what "gotta do" means maybe you should get some form o' education. Would you prefer haughty academia jargon? Do smart people automatically have to use superior language and discard of casual language?

EfraimKristal
EfraimKristal

@WilliamZhang Not true. Not at all. While 20 years ago the unemployed graduate was far more likely to be a humanities graduate, as developing nations invest more in technology (global competition), and US companies outsource more and more technical jobs (cheaper to hire foreign science/tech workers), an alarming number of STEM graduates have been finding that even a graduate or terminal degree won't guarantee economic survival. Doctoral degrees in science and engineering from such eminent institutions as Columbia and MIT, to name a few, no longer translate into field-related employment. As another poster above commented, even if we all had perfect GPAs, and had interned with the best companies/labs, as long as there aren't enough jobs for the mass of graduating students there will of necessity be unemployment, or at least underemployment. 


As for your enthusiastic (all caps) relaying of a student lamenting the tangential effects of the explosive costs of higher education, one can only hope you continue doing absolutely everything in life perfectly, lest when you require the community's good will you be met with the same disregard and dismissal as you've demonstrated for those whom you judge to deserve their suffering.

c-grove
c-grove

@WilliamZhang  I am the mother of a kid who worked his way through school, kept a 4.0 GPA became fluent in two languages, and studied abroad. He has looked for 4 years now and can't find anything.  He was misinformed by his school that if he were fluent in Arabic which he is, he would have no trouble finding work. WRONG!!!! He is willing to take anything.  Do you have a position for him?

DanielBrookfield
DanielBrookfield

"The #1 reason recent college grads can't get hired is because entry-level jobs require previous experience, and how does one get experience if he can't even get an entry-level job? Unpaid internships - which constitute the majority of internships - are abhorrent, and are a manipulative way to economically enslave people who have few other options. Do we really want to teach our children that they must start their lives a step behind and in debt, punished simply for their youth, their inexperience, and their desire to learn? Frankly, what we are doing is idiotic, and it is our fault as the elders shaping our society that we strangle our own posterity as they suffocate from disappointment, disgust, and apathy. I for one can't blame them."


- Said nobody ever

frankly58
frankly58

"When I graduated from a prestigious college with a liberal arts degree (mistake number one), I couldn't get a job making more than minimum wage"   No, this was not a mistake.   I got a business degree from a prestigious college, and it was not of much help either.   Secondly, not everybody can be an engineer, or a computer programmer, or a doctor or a lawyer, pharmacist.    Also, many of these hi tech jobs are offshored, and are not a guarantee of a successful and lucrative career.   Never regret your past, as everything has redeeming value, even your perceived mistakes.