Preparing students with new skills

A recent Gallup poll shows major discrepancies in opinions
concerning how prepared college graduates are for the workplace.

While 96 percent of chief academic officers said their academic institution was “very/somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work,” the American public and business leaders said otherwise. Only 14 percent of Americans strongly agreed that college graduates in the United States are well prepared for success in the workplace.

Meanwhile, only a paltry 11 percent of business leaders strongly agreed that graduates have in-demand skills and competencies. This is not the first time the business sector has declared its preference for workers with sufficient skills and knowledge.

In a separate Gallup poll, business leaders responded that the “amount of knowledge the candidate has in the field” and “candidate’s applied skills in the field” were the most important factors they considered when making hiring decisions. These factors heavily outranked both “candidate’s college or university major” and “where the candidate received his or her college degree.”

So why is there such a major disconnect between how university officials, the public and employers define career preparation and success?

One potential answer could lie in how general education requirements at colleges and universities have not changed to reflect the changes in what skills and qualities employers are looking for from graduates.

In 2005, the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that skills that employers highly valued included communication skills, interpersonal skills and teamwork skills. In its Job Outlook 2014 survey, NACE found that while employers still considered the aforementioned skills and qualities very important, they felt that skills like information processing, quantitative data analysis and proficiency with computer software programs were also important.

The question remains: Are the general requirements at higher education institutions doing enough to create workforce-ready graduates, or are they simply creating well-cultured ones?

While I don’t take issue with the principle of general education requirements, I do take issue with their relevancy in 2014 and beyond.

It’s both redundant and a waste of resources to have general education requirements for subjects that schools sufficiently exposed students to in grades K-12.

For instance, instead of requiring subjects in the biological and physical sciences, students would be better off taking courses in computer science and information technology in order to pick up skills that are valuable in nearly any industry today.

Some colleges and universities, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology and Montclair State University, have already picked up on this and are requiring students to take a computer science course in order to graduate.

The value of these types of courses lies in the demand for them. While a holistic education is important, schools should also adapt degree requirements to prepare students for challenges in the workforce.

The demands of the job market frequently change, and while it may be inconvenient to do so, higher education institutions must learn to keep up. Otherwise, they are ultimately failing their students.

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