Timing is everything. I graduated from college at a time when jobs were readily available. I had four job offers in hand two months before graduation, all related to my bachelor of arts in journalism.
I chose an offer from the Chicago Tribune. Graduation was on a Sunday, and I reported to work the following Wednesday. Like all parents, my dad was relieved I would be on someone else’s payroll.
I had graduated from one of the best journalism schools in the country. I felt prepared for the job, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how intimidated I was that first day. The prospect of having to perform on a daily basis was scary. I had no delusions about the difference between book learning and on-the-job performance, between earning an A and earning a salary.
Fortunately, the Tribune started me off with a solid training program. It also offered me a variety of continuing professional development opportunities. It helped me acquire the skills I needed, paid me fairly and enabled me to move on to my next job.
Times have changed for recent graduates.
A few weeks ago, Accenture released its 2013 College Graduate Employment Survey, which polled both students who will be graduating from college this spring and those who graduated in the past two years. It showed a disconnect between the expectations of today’s young workers and the realities they face. More important, it uncovered a growing need for employers to take a more discerning look at how they deploy and invest in the latest crop of talent.
One of the most surprising findings is that U.S. employers are underestimating the potential and underutilizing the capabilities of young, college-educated workers. Four out of 10 recent grads already in the workforce say they are underemployed and working in jobs that do not require their degrees. This is happening despite the fact that research shows hiring someone with a higher-level degree than is necessary for a given job does not typically result in a higher-performing employee. It certainly doesn’t reduce the need to invest in training for specialized skills. Most of the employed respondents — 63 percent — say that even with their degrees, they need more training to get their desired job.
The study also identified a wide gap between the expectations 2013 graduates have for employer-provided training and what they are likely to receive when they start working. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of pending 2013 graduates expect their first employer to provide formal training, but fewer than half (48 percent) of 2011 and 2012 graduates surveyed say they received formal training in their first job.
These results should sound a loud and clear wake-up call for learning leaders.
In announcing the study, Katherine LaVelle, managing director of Accenture’s talent and organization practice in North America, said, “For our nation’s youngest workers, as well as for the workforce at large, there is a real need for employers to re-examine how they hire, train and develop their employees. Students come out of school with great generalist skills, but need tailored training to develop the specialist skills U.S. companies need. Employers need to improve the training they provide, develop deeper partnerships with universities and explore approaches such as apprenticeships to ensure they develop the necessary skills in their new hires and existing employees.”
Right now, millions of jobs are going unfilled because employers can’t find candidates with all of the relevant skills needed. Changing the way organizations invest in the next generation of workers might be the answer to bridging this gap. By letting go of the idea of finding the perfect, experienced worker who meets every possible job requirement, companies can seek out young people with great potential and train them to perform in critical roles.
It’s a win-win. Young professionals get to launch their careers with meaningful work, and organizations acquire more motivated, capable and engaged employees primed to provide performance and longevity in return for the investment.