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FROM THE DIRECTOR: What do employers want from college graduates?

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I attended a fall Career Symposium at Babson College on "What Employers Want From College Graduates" and want to share what I learned and highlight some key points.

The first speaker, Abigail Davenport, VP of Hart Research spoke of a survey her organization had conducted with 318 executives at private sector and non-profit organizations. Following were the key findings:

  • Innovation is a priority. Critical thinking, and a broad skill set are viewed as key for meeting the complex challenges of the workplace
  • Employers recognize the importance of a liberal arts education.  More than half agree that long-term career success requires BOTH specific knowledge AND a broad range of skills (aka, "academics plus")
  • Employers endorse education practices that involve students in the application of knowledge and skills to real-world settings such as internships and field placement

The second speaker, Debra Humphreys, VP of Policy and Public Engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities spoke on the topic of "Preparing Liberally Educated Professionals for Success in the Global Economy."  She asked critical questions on the topic of professional success and how students define post-graduate success.

The reasons that students give for pursuing a college degree:

  1. Get a better job
  2. Learn more about things of interest
  3. Train for a specific career
  4. Gain a general education and appreciation of ideas

Debra also addressed the topic of seeking long-term success and sited the Gallup Organization's research on well-being.  Over the past fifty years, Gallup has conducted research where they have uncovered five common elements of well-being that go beyond country and culture that include career, social, financial, physical, and community well-being.  They found that career well-being is the most important predictor of overall well-being.  Their research raises questions of how to measure longer term outcomes that go beyond salary as the measure of "success' to the value of helping students explore and discover what they like and do best, and of course, find a good job.  Career well-being is already central to our work in the CEC as our 5 Step Career Development Plan is a start in providing students with the knowledge, skills and resources to discover what they like and do best in order to make informed, effective decisions for lifelong career management.

Other key points that struck me:

"The premium of lifelong learning just keeps going up...the world is changing even faster.  Learning how to love learning is becoming more important - and the importance of static knowledge is going down... Students have to have knowledge and how to use it- know AND do. All learning should revolve around projects."   -- David Rattray, Sr. Director, Education and Workforce Development, LA Chamber of Commerce

Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credential and college major when evaluating candidates.   -- The Role of Higher Education in Career Development: Employer Perceptions (Marketplace and Chronicle of Higher Education, December, 2012)

Employers endorse the following high-impact educational practices with potential to help graduates succeed:

  • Research and evidence-based analysis
  • Senior projects
  • Internships and community-based work
  • Collaborative research

The good news is that Simmons has much of what employers want with a need to connect current best practices and build new ones as our differentiator in higher education.  We know that the value of a liberal arts education includes the skills employers seek today and also the skills for success in life.  We know that we have strong departmentally based experiential learning opportunities built into the Independent Learning requirement with internships, field experience and practice-based research and through Service Learning and Study Abroad.  We know that we are a student-centered professional learning community that reaches students early through the First-Year Experience and through integration of career preparation within departments and offices and through alumni mentoring programs.  We also know that professional preparation is an integral part of our liberal arts education and is central to the Simmons history, mission and strategy.

What students face today is to become career-ready in a rapidly changing work world.  This means that they need to be more actively engaged in their career development from day one.  Ultimately, they need to learn how to translate the meaning of their education.  This includes articulating the skills and value they can bring to an employer as they begin their career, and later as they manage and advance their career over the course of a lifetime.

Andrea Wolf is Director of the Simmons Career Education Center.