Michael Ryu

The Silhouette

A recently published study called “Bridge That Gap: Analyzing the Student Skill Index” puts into the spotlight a critical problem: students who have graduated from post-secondary education are unable to uphold the quality of work that employers expect. In fact, employers are experiencing an increasing divide between the standard of work they expect from students and the standard that students actually provide.

The study interviewed 2,000 18- to 24-year-old students enrolled in two- or four-year college programs, and 1,000 hiring managers. Students were asked whether they felt qualified to work in a professional environment while hiring managers were asked to evaluate the readiness of recent college graduates.

The results demonstrated that students tended to overestimate their abilities. 50 per cent of students answered that they felt completely prepared for professional environments, while hiring managers answered that they believed only 39 per cent of recent graduates were prepared to work in their respective fields.

Students and hiring managers were then requested to name factors they found to be most important in the hiring process. 45 per cent of students thought the name of their institution was a large factor, whereas only 28 per cent of hiring managers thought it was important. 77 per cent of students believed that personal connections would help them secure a job, while only 52 per cent of hiring managers stated that it was significant.

Qualities that most hiring managers held in high regard were the demonstration of an initiative to lead, participation in extra-curricular activities and the completion of a formal internship prior to graduation.

Lynn Stewart, the director of Outreach and Community Engagement of McMaster’s Engineering Faculty said, “For engineering students. The divide is less about technical work than… the ability of students to interpret and navigate… the professional workplace. When students are on an engineering internship, many will identify dealing effectively with people in the workplace as a more significant challenge than dealing with technical problems.”

This problem was not exclusive only to the engineering community but applied to students as a whole. 63 per cent of hiring managers found that graduates were very prepared to apply technical skills to the task at hand but were relatively lost when they had to apply soft skills.

“The communication, the team-building, the prioritization and time management skills are… skills that employers are wanting more from students,” explained Lisa Barty, manager of McMaster’s Science Career and Cooperative Education office.

“Employers have changed their expectations of new hires,” said Sandra Preston, Assistant Professor and Director of Experiential online pharmacy no prescription Education of Social Sciences. “Employers want students to be job ready for their specific job and aren’t as willing to invest in young people who are just learning to navigate the work world… I do believe the discrepancy [between employer expectations and student performance] exists, but it has more to do with students not fully understanding how their skills do relate to the ‘real world.’”

The responsibility of diminishing the divide does not fall upon only the academic institutions but also the students themselves. The study highlighted the lack of soft skills that most graduates demonstrate.

“Students are under immense pressure to succeed academically, and maybe what we’re seeing is that students are coming out of post-secondary institutions lacking some of these skills because they have not found that balance between academics and all the other available [opportunities] that are going to help develop those [soft] skills,” explained Barty.

Preston pointed out that, “there are many opportunities on campus for students to gain the kind of experiences that will help them translate their skills from the academic to the employment world.”

Stewart agreed, and said “[We should] encourage students to develop these professional skills, as much as this is possible while they’re in school: participate in extracurricular activities, push outside of the comfort zone to interact with people from diverse academic backgrounds… it’s not just about getting good grades, it’s about both personal and professional growth.”

 

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