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Should colleges train the workforce?

Or is education about something higher?

It is pretty easy to write a simple, declarative sentence without thinking too much.

But it isn’t always as simple to write a sentence that communicates an idea that is easily understood by the reader.

Perhaps that explains what is occurring in our workplaces today when 53 percent of employers say they are having a hard time finding college graduates with the skills they need for the workplace.

On the other hand, 69 percent of colleges say they have done a good job of producing qualified hires for the workplace.

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Those are the findings of a study by The Chronicle of Higher Education online newsletter and Marketplace magazine. The findings show sharply different perspectives of employers and colleges when it comes to evaluating the workplace readiness of graduates.

“Once upon a time, ‘trainee’ used to be a common job title,” says Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. “Now companies expect everyone, recent graduates included, to be ready to go on Day One.

“The mantle of preparing the workforce has been passed on to higher ed.”

But a question looms whether colleges want to – or should – accept that responsibility. Nearly every school encourages internships, and most have career centers and education for specialized industries. Yet developing workplace skills isn’t widely viewed as an essential component of education.

A college professor of mine frequently told us that we were not going to college to get a job, but to learn how to think and get a framework for leading a better life.

And, while colleges may be seeking to provide a broad education to their students, today’s employers are looking for turnkey employees in an increasingly technological world with an increasingly mobile workforce.

This friction over the workplace readiness of job applicants is nothing new. Perhaps it has been exacerbated by the increasing demands for specific skills by employers in recent years, but it has existed for decades. But with workers no longer staying with the same employer for 20 or 30 years, employers seem less likely to want to invest in worker training.

Even with concerns over whether college graduates are emerging ready to work, employers continue to hire them. The unemployment rate for college graduates currently runs about five percent, or about half for that for those with only a high school diploma.

So while colleges may think they are doing what they should to prepare the workers of tomorrow, employers have a different perspective and believe those workers are lacking in skills.

Clearly, the demands of the work world have changed over the past 50 years. As new technology emerges and evolves, employers need workers with the skills to deal with that technology. But it is not the responsibility of the colleges alone to introduce those skills.

The two parties need a way to meet halfway. Colleges – as many already have – need to accept that our world has changed and that they have to include specific occupational skills in their curricula. Meanwhile employers have to understand the colleges and universities are not technical schools and that employers need to invest in the worker skills they need.

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It is pretty easy to write a simple, declarative sentence without thinking too much.

But it isn’t always as simple to write a sentence that communicates an idea that is easily understood by the reader.

Perhaps that explains what is occurring in our workplaces today when 53 percent of employers say they are having a hard time finding college graduates with the skills they need for the workplace.

On the other hand, 69 percent of colleges say they have done a good job of producing qualified hires for the workplace.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Those are the findings of a study by The Chronicle of Higher Education online newsletter and Marketplace magazine. The findings show sharply different perspectives of employers and colleges when it comes to evaluating the workplace readiness of graduates.

“Once upon a time, ‘trainee’ used to be a common job title,” says Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. “Now companies expect everyone, recent graduates included, to be ready to go on Day One.

“The mantle of preparing the workforce has been passed on to higher ed.”

But a question looms whether colleges want to – or should – accept that responsibility. Nearly every school encourages internships, and most have career centers and education for specialized industries. Yet developing workplace skills isn’t widely viewed as an essential component of education.

A college professor of mine frequently told us that we were not going to college to get a job, but to learn how to think and get a framework for leading a better life.

And, while colleges may be seeking to provide a broad education to their students, today’s employers are looking for turnkey employees in an increasingly technological world with an increasingly mobile workforce.

This friction over the workplace readiness of job applicants is nothing new. Perhaps it has been exacerbated by the increasing demands for specific skills by employers in recent years, but it has existed for decades. But with workers no longer staying with the same employer for 20 or 30 years, employers seem less likely to want to invest in worker training.

Even with concerns over whether college graduates are emerging ready to work, employers continue to hire them. The unemployment rate for college graduates currently runs about five percent, or about half for that for those with only a high school diploma.

So while colleges may think they are doing what they should to prepare the workers of tomorrow, employers have a different perspective and believe those workers are lacking in skills.

Clearly, the demands of the work world have changed over the past 50 years. As new technology emerges and evolves, employers need workers with the skills to deal with that technology. But it is not the responsibility of the colleges alone to introduce those skills.

The two parties need a way to meet halfway. Colleges – as many already have – need to accept that our world has changed and that they have to include specific occupational skills in their curricula. Meanwhile employers have to understand the colleges and universities are not technical schools and that employers need to invest in the worker skills they need.

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