01 May 2015

Help Wanted

“Let us realize that: the privilege to work is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, and the love of work is a success!”

--David O. McKay

With college commencements getting underway here’s some news for graduates (and parents) that they may or may not want to hear—it doesn’t much matter where you went to school.  What matters is how you go, so says Purdue University President Mitch Daniels.

The former Indiana governor and onetime director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in Washington D.C., is basing this "how" idea on the results of a Gallup-Purdue Index, a national survey of 30,000 college graduates released for the first time in 2014. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, the survey is an attempt at quantifying not only what a graduate earns but also how well they are navigating adult life.

According to the study, only 39% of college graduates report feeling engaged with their work. In that group as many come from the top-100 schools as don’t. The three most important contributions that college makes to a sense of workplace achievement after graduation:

1.    Having one professor who made you excited about learning

2.    Feeling as though the teachers cared about you

3.    Working with a mentor

Graduates who marked those boxes on the survey were more than twice as likely to sense they are flourishing at work.

The Gallup-Purdue Index shows that only 14% of those surveyed said they had attained all three in college.

Other positive factors in the study from undergraduate life:

·       Working on a long-term project

·       Having an internship

·       Participating in extra-curricular activities

The point: Where graduates went to college barely registered as a predictor of job satisfaction according to the Index.

The benefits of college

While cost is a major consideration, and not everyone must go through a bachelor's degree program to succeed in life, the pay gap between college graduates and everyone else is near a record high. Among millennials, ages 25-32, earnings for college degree holders are $17,500 greater than those with high school diplomas only. This is according to the Pew Research Center.

In addition to total earnings over a lifetime, the short-term benefit of completing a college degree is employment. 

Unemployment rate by education level, adults ages 25 to 34:

No H.S. diploma 13.8
H.S. diploma, no college 8.4
In some colleges, no degree 7.2
Associate degree only 5.8 
Bachelor's only 2.0
Master's  2.2
Advance professional 4.4
Doctoral 1.1  
Source: U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 2015

Universal qualities

A great deal of attention is paid to technology in a 21st-century economy, and rightfully so. Yet technology is a sword that cuts both ways--it's a net job creator while removing routine work.

Since 2008, 44% of U.S. firms have reduced their headcounts in part because of automation.   Nearly 50% of U.S. jobs are at high risk of becoming automated in the next 20 years according to Oxford University research published in TIME Magazine.

How does anyone prepare for such an unstable work environment?  Keep learning; remain flexible, and avoid routine work. As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people now in their 50s have changed jobs 11.3 times on average over their working lives.  New jobs require new skills.

However, in marketing to prospective students and parents may be colleges and universities are overlooking universal qualities and skills that employers seek when hiring--some of which can be honed while in the hallowed halls of ivy.   Or in certain cases, online.

The time to start developing the more sought-after hiring skills is when traditional students are in their college years. This is a period that allows for trial and error more so than a first or second career job where grading is often on a much harsher scale.

The well-rounded person

What are the attractive skills a person should consider pursuing that are just as integral to the education, training, and experience for specific kinds of jobs? The National Association of Colleges and Employers asked employers responding to their Job Outlook (2013) what skills they prioritize when hiring. Here are the top 10: 

1.    Ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization

2.    Ability to work in a team structure

3.    Ability to make decisions and solve problems

4.    Ability to plan, organize, and prioritize work

5.    Ability to obtain and process information

6.    Ability to analyze quantitative data

7.    Technical knowledge related to the job

8.    Proficiency with computer software programs

9.    Ability to create and/or edit written reports

10. Ability to sell or influence others

Note that soft and hard skills are evenly divided on the list. 

Orientations more than commencements

Higher education might want to focus on four areas that could make a significant difference in the college experience: build awareness for universal qualities in freshman orientations; enlist faculty to make application within a chosen field of study; place the qualities inside all degree programs, especially science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and link the qualities with internships. 

Steve Jobs, a college dropout, often described Apple as “the intersection of technology and liberal arts.” That business model, a philosophical legacy from Jobs himself, is currently sitting on $194 billion in cash and long-term investments. 

Once inside an organization—high tech, banking, nonprofit—all who want to be engaged and contribute have to eventually figure out how to work with others to accomplish common goals.  This is where cultural fit comes into play. 

To achieve a higher level of performance early in a career it would be better to know what the hiring skills are at the outset of college life than learn about them for the first time at commencement. Or, during a job interview.  

Final thoughts 

In looking to the future, and based on the research, how can colleges identify, hire and reward more professors who are capable of helping students “light the wick” of learning?   

According to the Gallup-Purdue Index, teachers with a gift to inspire contribute much to how we learn, to our character-building and workplace achievement. That has proven to be my experience, for which I am grateful.


© Bredholt & Co.