Staff Editorial: Where can we get the skills?

Only 7 percent of hiring decision-makers believe the higher education system does an “excellent” job preparing students for the workforce, while 54 percent say it does a “good” job, according to a survey commissioned by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

Are colleges responsible for turning out work-ready employees, or should employers provide adequate on-the-job training and realize the first few months are a learning process?

While professional majors such as nursing, dietetics, education and occupational therapy include on-job training as a major component to the curriculum, liberal arts majors are rooted in critical thinking and problem-solving.

Although these two skills produce well-rounded individuals, they cannot typically be listed as technical skills on a resume.

A college diploma is still worth the effort, though. According to an article on the Economic Policy Institute website, the unemployment rate for young high school graduates was 31.1 from April 2011 to March 2012.

For young college graduates, the unemployment rate was 9.4 percent (one percent lower than 2010).

But does a college diploma ready a student for the professional workplace?

Take the criminal justice major for example.

Students in this major take a curriculum loaded with psychology and history, along with courses rooted in criminal justice theory.

While these students learn a lot about how the system works and its problems, they do not learn skills to fulfill a specific job.

In many liberal arts majors, students depend heavily on internships to learn a set of marketable skills.

One English graduate student who got her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice had to go back for an associate’s degree as a paralegal in order to acquire a specific set of skills for the job market.

However, employers must realize colleges can not be responsible for teaching a mass amount of technical skills to its graduates.

Every employer uses a different set of technological programs that require on-site training for new employees.

And for so many jobs to place “experience needed” on their online entry-level job postings, it makes it difficult for recent graduates to get the “experience.”

Additionally, jobs that ask for students with a liberal arts background such as communications, journalism or history need to understand that problem identification and theory are large components to these majors.

They are intended to produce well-rounded critical thinkers who are ready to tackle problems, create new ideas and communicate, another important skill essential in the workplace but lacking among many current graduates who are heavily reliant on email and Facebook.

Coincidentally, that same study by the ACICS said 55 percent of hiring decision-makers prefer a broad-based education that helps students choose their best career paths while 45 percent of decision-makers believe that most students would be better served by an education that specifically prepares them for the workplace.

Obviously, some employers still want the critical thinkers and communicators.

But a few skills included in the package would benefit.

Employers and nearby colleges need to work together to figure out which skills educators should be teaching in the school environment and which would be better taught on-site after employment.

With a thorough education and a knowledge of the proficiency they will need at their future jobs, graduates will be confident and better prepared for the real world.

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