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Matt gives himself a $10-a-day budget for food. Aside from that, he spends money only on drawing classes or software that will help get his skills up to a marketable level. Once that’s been accomplished, he can begin to build his portfolio. Eventually, he’d like to do commercial illustration and concept design for film and video games.

“It’s at least a year or two off before I get there,” he says.

Next to him, Gwynn, in the long print skirt and tank top, nods her head with understanding.

She, too, says, “I’ve graduated with a lot of information but not any sort of skill to apply it.”

After four years working toward a degree in Islamic and Arabic studies at San Diego State University, she’d expected to land a job with the CIA or the Department of Defense — not with the sales department at A-1 Self Storage. She knows she’s fortunate to have a job, even if management does keep her exactly one hour short of full time so she won’t qualify for benefits. Luckily, Gwynn shares a one-bedroom apartment with three people, so her rent is a mere $300 per month. She hopes eventually to pull in more than the $11 an hour she makes now.

“I went to a job fair at SDSU, where the CIA had a booth,” says the 24-year-old. “In the course of the conversation [the recruiter] basically said, ‘Come back when you have a fellowship or an internship abroad.’”

School was helpful in that she learned to read and write Arabic, but because she didn’t have the means to travel and practice the language conversationally, she can’t find work as a translator. Gwynn’s plan is to find her way to graduate school via a job with the State Department, or the Navy or Air Force, or anyone that will help her pay for a graduate degree or send her abroad for “real-world experience.” She’s concentrating her energy on studying for the policy tests required to get the consulting jobs she’s hoping for and to keep up with the Arabic she did learn.

Language, she says, is a skill, but “without speaking it, it doesn’t count for much.”

∗ ∗ ∗

In 2007, a company called Hart Research Associates conducted a survey that resulted in a report by the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America’s Promise, and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The 2007 report found that 63 percent of employers believe “college graduates lack essential skills to succeed in today’s economy.”

In the fall of 2009, Hart Research Associates conducted another survey on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and found that “only one in four employers thinks that two-year and four-year colleges are doing a good job in preparing students for the challenges of the global economy.”

On the day I sit in the Blind Lady Ale House with Gwynn, Matt, and the others, I don’t yet know these statistics. And yet we spend nearly our whole afternoon discussing how unprepared these graduates realized they were when it came time to start looking for work.

Although Fern, the bubbly 22-year-old to my left, lives with her parents and doesn’t have the same financial stresses as Matt and Gwynn (because she has no bills or expenses other than those required for socializing), she can relate when her friends suggest that their schooling didn’t quite set them up with everything they needed to compete for jobs in the current economy. Soon after graduation, she realized that even though she received a bachelor’s degree in physics and art with an emphasis in graphics, she doesn’t have the design skills or the portfolio to land a job in graphic design.

Despite all the praise she received in college about her art, as soon as she graduated, she thought, “Oh, shoot. I’m a very, very, very tiny, inexperienced fish who really isn’t worth much at all in this very, very big pond. And that sucks.”

In an attempt both to expand her skills and build her design portfolio, Fern turned to volunteering. She designs T-shirts, brochures, and other promotional materials for Community Coaching Center in Hillcrest and provides merchandise design for the Eugene Bowman Economic Empowerment Center in City Heights. This is in addition to a few hours per week of paid transcription and video captioning for Student Disability Services at San Diego State University.

Scott, whose mustacheless goatee adds sternness to his already serious demeanor, is perhaps the luckiest fellow at the table — at least in terms of time spent postgraduation in one’s chosen field of study. The 22-year-old graduated with a bachelor of science in engineering physics and a minor in chemistry, and he currently works a full-time (albeit unpaid) internship at Silicon Kinetics — building a robot, of all things. He knows he’s lucky to have the luxury of taking a full-time internship without having to worry about money or bills (because his grandparents paid for his college education and because he, too, lives with his parents), but he also feels fortunate to have the internship, especially given the gaps in his knowledge and experience.

“A lot of work consists of keeping track of the screws,” he says, emphasizing the importance of organizational skills, which is not the only thing he didn’t learn in school. “Proficiency in Solidworks, which is a 3-D [computer-aided design] program, would have been nice. And knowing how to solder before I came in would have been good.”

Although Scott doesn’t say much in the group setting at Blind Lady, he emails me later and gives me more details about his job.

“My work specifically is to document the assembly of the Autohandler, which is a Cartesian [or linear] robot that takes bio samples from a tray and places them onto another tray so an optical scanner can take measurements. It’s basically an arm.”

Building a robot sounds like the perfect job for a physics major. Scott agrees that it is. But he couldn’t help being disappointed that he didn’t receive a single job offer after graduating from college.

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Comments

Evelyn July 29, 2010 @ 9:57 a.m.

Wow, I guess I really was that lucky/blessed... I only spent about 5 months unemployed after I graduated last year. And with very little debt thanks to the federal government and my mother's job.

I agree with Fern, there's no need to take a job you don't want, especially if there's something better coming up. I turned down a job offer with my internship. I knew I wasn't going to be happy there and it was temporary. Being self-focused doesn't mean one is narcissistic, it means one has the luxury to only have to think about oneself. Thinking about others becomes secondary, unless the individual decides to make it a primary focus...

As for Gwynn, with the language studies, volunteering at a non profit, or applying, will help with her lack of spoken language skills; as will hanging out in City Heights and chatting up strangers. Everyone loves it when non native speakers try and speak your native tongue.

Otherwise, I was unimpressed with the graduates. 35k a year isn't enough? I was overjoyed with my job and I'll only gross about 29k. That's more than my mother earns now, and (I think) more than my older brother grossed last year.

As one of my teachers put it, one can learn and grow immensely from just one year of employment. So, Andy, the finance major, isn't much into cars. He works w a car company now, use that and look for something within the company in finance. Selling enrollment? Don't think of it as selling people an education, think of it as giving people hope for the future. Come next year, the economy will keep going up, and the degree will be be more useful than ever. Don't chase the money, chase the dream.

Idk if it's me and my circumstances, but I never expected a great job to just materialize. I never expected 35k a year. I would have been happy with a 10/hr part time job. I knew that whatever employment I found was only going to be stepping stone towards what I truly want. A step towards becoming who I want to be.

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bohemianopus Aug. 4, 2010 @ 8:59 a.m.

Blueevey is wise beyond his/her years. I enjoyed reading the comment as much as reading the article. Such insight! I'm sure this person will be a huge success in life--if for no other reason but the attitude and problem-solving advice shown here.

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Visduh Aug. 5, 2010 @ 7:23 p.m.

If the Reader was reaching its target readership, this piece should have had hundreds of comments. There are thousands or tens of thousands of young grads out there who are in the same situation. Where are their comments? Or do they just not read the . . . Reader?

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David Dodd Aug. 5, 2010 @ 7:32 p.m.

Visduh, what exactly is the Reader's target readership? It's a very eclectic publication, I never considered that college grads were the target. I'm old, comparatively, I certainly hope they're targeting me, too ;)

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Visduh Aug. 6, 2010 @ 11:05 a.m.

In response to post #4, I can say that if you are old, I'm older still. But for as long as I've known the Reader its aim seemed to be toward the younger, single local population, and those whose orientation was to the beach communities. The advertisers sure seem to think so. On those occasions when I actually see a printed copy of the product, the ads that predominate involve weight loss, tanning/training/toning, boob jobs, bikinis and that sort of thing. There's a great amount of space devoted to the club scene with extensive reviews of rock bands. So, I'd suppose recent college grads would be reading the publication. If they do, they don't post comments.

Over the years the Reader has become more eclectic in its coverage and appeal (I'd suppose) but the emphasis is in my opinion still as described above.

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MsGrant Aug. 6, 2010 @ 11:51 a.m.

I hate to break it to you, Visduh, but the 40-plus crowd invests in weight loss/tanning/toning/boob jobs probably to a greater degree than the under 30 one does, especially in San Diego.

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Visduh Aug. 6, 2010 @ 1:05 p.m.

MsGrant, I'll have to accept your word for that! I never thought if it that way.

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Evelyn Aug. 6, 2010 @ 2:37 p.m.

Reply to 2: Thank you Bohemianopus! I appreciate the love.

Just because people don't comment, it doesn't mean people aren't reading.

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