Employers Want Broadly Educated New Hires, Survey Finds

This combination of ‘field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge’ is exactly what the Honors College is striving for.

Beckie Supiano, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Apr 10, 2013

Students worried about landing a job after graduation might be attracted to a narrow education that focuses on building their knowledge in one area. But that isn’t enough to help them pursue successful careers, according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

The group released its latest survey of employers on Wednesday, and it is using the findings to bolster a new compact between college presidents and employers that advocates a broad, liberal-arts education for all.

A report on the survey findings, “It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success,” comes to some of the same conclusions as a recent survey of employers conducted by The Chronicle. Both surveys found that a considerable share of employers don’t think colleges are doing a very good job of preparing graduates for work. Unlike The Chronicle’s survey, the association’s considers recent graduates with either two- or four-year degrees.

The AAC&U survey also shows employers’ support for the idea that students should be broadly educated and should apply their learning to the real world during college. More than half of employers indicated that recent college graduates should have “both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge.” (The report is based on an online survey of 318 employers conducted in January.) [read the full article; emphases added]

Other key points highlighted in the article:

  • expansion of opportunities for hands-on learning
  • importance of strong collaboration, communication & problem-solving skills
  • liberal arts education to learn how to think
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23 Responses to Employers Want Broadly Educated New Hires, Survey Finds

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks so much for highlighting this. I know it is a challenge for lots of HC students to transition from the focus on information/data/knowledge-in-your-head to a model of dynamic learning where answers are not fixed, and where problems are ongoing. But, even as it is is a challenge, I am so appreciative that the HC works to gently nudge folks in this direction. I think the importnat thing to recognizes is that it isn’t either/or. It isn’t like you EITHER know things or can do things and solve problems. It is both and both are important. I think schools have traditionally focused more on data/information, so the second part which is strong communication skills, problem-solving skills, and creative/critical thinking skills are the part where there needs to be more emphasis. It is also the part that is harder. We can all memorize things pretty well if we really put our mind to it. The hard part is knowing how to use that to solve problems – whether problems in your job, as a citizen, as a student, in relationships, etc. Thanks for this post!

    • Wolfgang Brauner says:

      Thanks so much for your insightful comment. I wholeheartedly agree that we have always and will always need both. However, the precise combination if not integration of the two increasingly poses a challenge, given the age of Big Data and Big Science that we have irrevocably entered. On top of that, we are now facing the ‘rise of the MOOCs.’ Given these trends, there seems to be a shift underway. It is less and less what you know and more and more what you can do with what you know (both in terms of skills and jobs), and, one might add, where you can find the best data set, and how best to analyze, interpret and act on it.

  2. Paige says:

    I agree that we need to put an emphasis on knowing how to solve problems in school. I think education becomes too focused on learning the information in the book and not on learning actual skills necessary to succeed. The skills outlined in this post seem to be completely in line with that. Thinking critically is a really important skill to foster, but I think the two challenges are: how do we integrate that effectively with learning the ‘book knowledge’ we need? and how do schools/students demonstrate to employers that they have these skills (especially on say, a resume)?

    • Elizabeth says:

      I think these are great points, Paige. Especially how to convey on resume. I have heard of people putting a line on resume that is not “jobs” but something like “experience.” I feel like a class that like this could also go under “research” or “publications.” That is one of the ideas behind publishable research from this class – that it is something more than just writing a paper for a class but something publishable.

  3. Kathryn Laslie says:

    At the Honors Council this weekend, this is what I spoke about. The Honors College as a whole, and especially Hon251 are an integral part of the process of bridging the gap between the expert and the well rounded citizen. In real life, the answers aren’t fixed, and they are usually multidimensional issues that require multiple experiences and strains of knowledge to solve. A math problem, dispite popular belief, is not a wicked problem, but poverty and education are. Thinking critically is great, but there is still more that needs to be done so that thinking can be converted into action. In the grand scheme of things, what you recieved on your ACT will not matter; instead, what will matter is what you decided to do with the things you learned. This is appropriate for me because of my involvement with SKyTeach. UTeach, originally created in Texas, was a ground-breaking redevelopment in the way that institutions are teaching teachers to teach. SKyTeach, a STEM program, focuses mainly on Math and Science middle school and secondary educators by placing us in the classrooms during our first semester. Our student teaching starts immediately, and we are able to see how what we are taught in class can be applied in the real life classroom. Especially when it comes to teaching, it does not matter how many degrees you have: if you do not know how to apply it on a ground level in a context that students can understand, you will not be successful. Some of the greatest minds make the worst teachers. In the same way, some of the best scholars make the worst employees.

  4. Mandi says:

    The points and purpose of both the employer survey and this blog seem particularly relevant today, as many HC students registered for classes this morning. I know for me personally, it’s hard to fit both core/major classes and liberal-arts classes into my schedule, and the difficulty only increases the further along I get. I definitely agree that a combination of information/data and dynamic learning is necessary in order to allow for active, capable citizens. Simply memorizing and spitting out data holds little weight in the real world; however, the current education requirements don’t allow for much elbow room. I really would like to take more diverse classes, but it seems almost impossible to do without taking eight years to complete my degree due to all of the major requirements. Yet I feel that many students, myself included, could benefit from classes without a specific major or subject focus, classes that force us to think outside of the box and actually apply what we learn to real-life situations. Due to requirements, this seems unlikely to happen on a large scale. Perhaps if universities incorporated the idea of dynamic learning (working together, applying knowledge) into more classes, even those that are for a particular major, more students would be exposed, which would likely increase their capacity to live well both in the work place and in their relationships.

    • Elizabeth says:

      ” however, the current education requirements don’t allow for much elbow room” –> This is the challenge especially for science folks and when degree requirements are tight, such as for engineering.

  5. Dalton James says:

    I completely agree that community skills should be taught more in the classroom in order to prepare a student for the workforce. The high school I attended actually started implementing a form of training to help students through this lack of knowledge and exposure to the real world. We had to go through several scenarios and received a certificate that would tell employers that we made it through the program. At some point the person will have to learn these skills as expected by their employer in order to satisfy customers. If the person is going to have to show these skills anyway, it would only make sense to plant the seed earlier in their life rather than having to learn them the hard way. (That is if they even could get the job without those skills. ) I think the idea of measuring a students “intelligence” through standardized testing should be rethought because what benefit is that really giving the world in the long run? I believe a more effective form of testing would be implementing skills that are learned in the classroom pertaining to the community in a real world situation. A way that the employers could then see what the student has accomplished could possibly be through volunteer activities or projects they have completed. An important measure would be the real world advantage of their actions and directly how the community has benefited from it. What are some thoughts on how schools or employers could test the community intelligence of an individual and feel comfortable that they will be better equipped than a less exposed individual with simply “book knowledge” or a degree in their hand? What does a more exposed person bring to the table?

  6. Maya says:

    I definitely found this article interesting, especially since throughout high school learning STEM skills and information was constantly stressed over liberal arts education. I remember plenty of rewards for exceeding in math, science, etc. while there was little to none for english, history, etc. I think the fact that employers are now trying to stress learning a broad range of skills over just a specific set highlights some of the problems with how colleges and secondary/primary education are approaching learning; while learning pure information is stressed, learning community skills is neglected. I think this does have a bad effect on how students view the world once they leave high school, college, etc. They know the skills to do well on tests and repeat information, but they don’t know interpersonal skills or how to function successfully in a community. I think some schools are taking a step in the right direction by making internships and community involvement a necessary part of the curriculum to help expose students to the ‘real world’, but I think most schools are still stuck on the ‘information is the absolute key to success’ idea.

    • Paige says:

      I agree 100% with this. I noticed that in high school and still do in college to an extent. I’m at a loss as to how this can be mitigated because our progressing economy does place an increasing demand for focus here, but in order to truly keep up we need both. Thoughts, anyone?

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Gosh, with a smart bunch of students on here! Of course, I think people should feel free to disagree too! I think Paige has a point that there is an increasing demand for focus while at the same time needing practical skills. I imagine part of this has to do with an economy where more and more people have a college education – you need a degree to be an administrative assistant. So in order to get good jobs and move up, you need more – not just knowledge, but also creativity, flexibility, problem-solving skills, people skills, etc. And then what about folks like Mandi or others who have crazy intense requirements for their specialized degrees and then ALSO are expected to have broader skills. As much as the study says that they employers want people with real world skills and problem solving abilities, you can bet that they also expect you to have the basics of your field down. As we are facing a world where this generation will, statistically, not do better than their parents’ generation, what it takes to do well seems to increase more and more. It is a challenge for universities, I think, to meet all the different demands in a way that, as Mandi says, doesn’t mean you stay in college for 8 years. The hope is (not to be pushing the HC or anything, but I think it is true) that the opportunities that the HC offers for research, internships, study abroad, and core classes like 251 will be able to do enough to provide the both/and that it seems like is needed.

  8. Paula says:

    After reading this article and a few counterarguments, I can safely agree with the fact that the above skills (problem-solving, communication, critical thinking, etc.) are indeed necessary for a well-developed education. However, I find two critical issues with the means by which we can acquire such aptitudes: time and feasibility.

    As conditions currently stand, employers desire graduates who are both knowledgeable about their subject matter and experienced in the real world. College students are being encouraged to “specialize” while undergoing the pressure to become well-rounded and “broadly educated.” Do faculty members or government officials have the time to initiate such a drastic change in higher education? If so, do students possess the time to incorporate both content and life applications into their curriculum?

    Time is a significant obstacle that stands in the way of the concept of a broader education. However, if time were of no consequence, feasibility still threatens a change like this. According to articles like , employers want a myriad of skills in the workplace. Is it truly feasible to ask students to develop in-depth, real-world applicable skills on top of the course loads some are already presented with?

    These are only a few questions that come to mind when assessing this issue. I hope to engage in more conversation about this topic as well.

  9. Jarred Johnson says:

    I honestly sort of don’t understand the United States’s insistence on “preparing graduates for work.” I don’t think the problem is university education as much as it is indecision. If a student knows what it is he or she wants to do, they can pursue an education that prepares them for this. The problem comes when someone attends four or six years of college for a degree in a subject they like or they think will make them money and then goes job searching. They get placed in a job that uses some of their skills but not all, and the employer blames education for this flaw, when it might not actually be. If the university setting was just about making well-rounded, problem-solving citizens, there wouldn’t be majors. It would be a continuation of high school with more fun classes and more focus on citizenship. I say all this without really believing all of it, though. I am an English major, and as such I am not in a job-preparing major. I want to write (novels, poetry, plays, films, articles), teach, do some ambassadorial work, etc. I found an English degree to be my best undergraduate option because it’s versatile and because I love literature.

    I know that in Germany, for instance, VERY few people go to university to get an English degree. University is more about job preparation. Doctors, lawyers, and teachers go to Uni, but not most of the rest. I have a close friend who lives there, and he got a job at a local news station after graduation from college-prep high school. Job experience is a lot more important there. In America, one would have to hold a communication degree to get such a job, but this system is working fine for Germany; their is economy is number four in the world. In contrast, here, everyone goes to college. It’s become a forced thing: get a degree or don’t get a job. So people get degrees because they have to, not because they need to, and work jobs that vaguely relate to their degree. This is more of a problem than the university’s style of educating, in my humble opinion.

    • Emily Cox says:

      Jarred, I am usually a very traditional person who advocates for whatever feels more “inside the box” but I will have to agree with you. Education today must cater to preparation for the workforce. As I pointed out in my response, the knowledge of the studied subject may not be enough, but the ability to do the job is what will further the economy.

  10. Casey Fortney says:

    Even if the problem is that universities aren’t doing enough to prepare their students to meet the needs of employers, there is no easy fix. As Paula said, there are time and feasibility constraints, but I take another issue from my field, Psychology.

    If people believe in only one type of intelligence, they are inaccurate. There are multiple kinds of intelligence, but we usually only test for the standard IQ measurement. This measure means little or nothing outside of the context of school and information; it was Designed For School Intelligence. The reason that we don’t measure all the kinds of intelligence that we know about is because they aren’t easy to measure or isolate. Intelligence in the workplace maybe could be measured objectively, with enough research.

    If we determined exactly what we were looking for in work-related skills (as universities have for subject areas and research), we maybe could educate students in the exact science of it. The problem is that the skills, the intelligence, the basic predictors of success are not easily measurable or teachable. We can try, as classes like 251 have, to establish a curriculum or a base for education, but it’s not easy. Even GPA and ACT scores can only predict college success to a certain degree.

    I would like to hear ideas about how a work-relevant educational system would work.

    • Elizabeth says:

      This is a great point Casey. We also see this in lots of issues with communities and strengthening democracy — people encourage what can be easily measured. But many of the most important things are not easily measured.

      I don’t have a good answer but I think you bring up a great point. I know that one way that we’ve tried to address this in this class is through portfolios that offer students a range of ways to show what they are learning and what they are thinking. I wonder if this might be a better framework for hiring people for jobs, too – your resume is more like a portfolio – offering a range of examples of the sort of real-world, work/problem-solving you’ve done.

      Not a solution, but perhaps a start.

  11. Kate Miller says:

    I did not read each individual comment, so I’m sorry if I say some of the same points. To me the main flaw with education today is that it is geared towards tests, and test scores. We base how much information people have gathered on scores. This is not the best method for several reasons. First psychology has proven that “cramming” for tests does not produce long term retention of the information. When students focus more on remembering information for the test, they are not actually learning or understanding the material. Additionally, students are unlikely to think for themselves if the information is handed directly to them and the teachers tell them exactly what they will need it for. Secondly, some people are bad test takers. They could bomb a test but actively discuss the same material with a peer or teacher with complete accuracy.
    Students will not have the three main points in the article, “hands-on learning”, “strong collaboration, communication & problem-solving skills” or learning “how to think” if the main focus is on testing and test scores.
    While it may be inconvenient to teach students by giving them information in a way other than lecturing then testing “what they memorized,” students will actually LEARN and GROW more as individuals by teaching them through more exercises that cause them to think and search for information on their own. If students are encouraged to get engaged and think about the material and how it can be involved in the real world it encourages long term retention of the material.
    I love how perfectly this ties into my group’s state of the issue for Honors 251. Our issue is the arts in Bowling Green. In reading research for the state of the issue nationally, I gathered that education in the arts is an effective way to bring in hands on learning, and other problem solving skills.
    Being an art major, I believe I have more opportunities to fit classes in that make me think outside the box, granted they are usually applied directly to art for the most part. One thing I like a lot about my major is that tests cannot measure the amount of knowledge I gain in my classes. The true test of what I’ve learned is manifested in my artwork.

  12. Mallory Schnell says:

    Do students attend universities to solely earn a degree or is there more to it? During college, we should be learning how to think, not just be able to memorize and regurgitate facts like we mastered so well in high school. This, of course, is a hard transition to make because our whole lives, we’ve been conditioned to study for tests and not really challenged to think critically. Once we reach college, we are pressured to know exactly what we want to do with our lives. Some of us would like to simply specialize in our career field and only take our major courses, while others, like me, would like to receive a wide range of education. Taking a diverse course load allows me to explore other content areas, experience different types of learning, and keep that window for change open. The only thing keeping me from taking advantage of all the classes our university has to offer is time. Where is the flexibility in our education system?
    Employers want people who are both specialized and broadly educated, which is almost an unrealistic combination to acquire. While certain required classes, such as Honors Citizen and Self, make honors students think in new ways, most unfortunately do not. Students should come out of college prepared for the real world, capable of working with others, and able to solve problems. Since we aren’t given much flexibility with what courses we get to take, these important skills should be better integrated in our major and required classes so that we may acquire a broad range of skills while still becoming specialized in a certain area. Yes, it is important to have knowledge in your field, but it is more important to be able to apply this knowledge to real-world situations that will be thrown in front of us as we enter the work force.

    • Elizabeth says:

      “these important skills should be better integrated in our major and required classes so that we may acquire a broad range of skills while still becoming specialized in a certain area” –> I think this is a great point Mallory. Students should have to take separate “real world” courses to learn how to think well or address meaningful problems. I think the challenge is that this is harder – for students and for professors. It would take a significant shift, but in the end would make college such a better use of time and money!

  13. Emily Cox says:

    This is an issue that has been brought up numerous times this semester. The discussion of whether or not we need to be extremely specialized in one area or well rounded with a variety of interests is more realistic now as I register for classes and get closer to the next semester. As a psychology major, I am given the choice of a general degree or extended degree. The difference between the two is precisely this discussion. A general psychology major requires a minor which portrays a variety of interests and a well rounded individual whereas the extended major says you are extremely specialized in your one field and have completed research. So which is more marketable? I believe the answer is still unclear. Personally, I believe that one of the most important qualities anybody can have is the ability to communicate. One can be the most knowledgeable expert in their field, but if they cannot adequately communicate that to their fellow workers, it is useless. I do understand, however, that some occupations require minimal interpersonal interaction and would require only the most qualified worker, but I am speaking for the majority. For all of us who are preparing ourselves to enter into the “real life” workforce, it is most important to know what will get us the best job. Employers want to know that their potential employee understands their responsibilities and will be capable of accomplishing their tasks with efficiency. Overall, being knowledgeable in your field is necessary, but having a variety of activities, classes, and interests will be the key to setting you apart in the changing 21st century workforce.

  14. Ian G. says:

    We have discussed the real world implications for this class throughout the semester and discussed how we can apply the concepts that we learn in class to our “real world” experiences. I think it is essential for students to investigate their own world views and take part in discussion with peers about challenging ideas and topics. This discussion will facilitate deeper thinking and encourage change to occur in the community. Employers are justified in seeking for employees that are well rounded students. The more exposed you are to the variety of intellectual issues, the better you will be able to respond to obstacles that appear throughout your career and the more easily you will be able to discuss implementing plans. While it is great to be very knowledgeable in your specific area of study, it is important to have a wide knowledge base and be able to play a role as a global citizen and get involved with community action. Committed and selfless employees capable of “real world” problem-solving skills are a necessity for anyone that is graduating college in this day and age. This is what employees are beginning to look for and will continue to seek in their future employees.

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