Are New College Grads Prepared for the Modern Workplace?

Are New College Grads Prepared for the Modern Workplace?

College grads, with few exceptions, are not ready for the modern workplace, says Ron McGowan, Principal of How to Find Work, an international consulting company that helps recent college/university graduates and experienced professionals who have lost their jobs better understand today’s workplace and how to go about finding work.

McGowan, also the author of the best-selling book How to Find WORK – In the 21st Century (The sixth edition is now available from the Thames River Press, Amazon, and other booksellers) doesn’t sugar coat it, stating: “Most colleges and universities are doing a poor job of preparing them for the workplace.”

McGowan has spoken at colleges and universities in the United States, across Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland the past 12 years. He’s also presented at conferences for college career counselor associations, where he has direct access to what is going on at today’s colleges and universities.

“Most college career counselors are not qualified to give grads the help they need,” says McGowan, pointing out that their own qualifications are in career counseling or social work, which is the wrong background, he says.

“We need people in these departments who are entrepreneurial and marketing-oriented,” says McGowan. “Also, most of them have no experience in today’s workplace. Many of them have never missed a paycheck in their lives and they live in a stable job environment with all the perks we used to associate with having a job. How can they relate to the challenges grads face entering today’s workplace?”

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What’s more, most senior administrators in colleges are out of touch with today’s workplace which is vastly different from the one they graduated into, says McGowan The same is true for the senior bureaucrats in the state and federal governments who are responsible for funding and managing the education sector.

“I read about a state governor last year who mused about tying funding to colleges and universities to the success rate of their graduates in finding meaningful employment, says McGowan. “That’s an idea that would resonate with many grads and their families. That said, it probably won’t happen. Anyone who has tried to make changes in the college/university sector can attest to how difficult it is. These people have far too much autonomy and very little accountability, and that has to change.”

The reality is this, according to McGowan: “We’re in a new era and we need a new approach to preparing grads for today’s workplace. The bottom line is there aren’t enough decent jobs for graduates. That’s been the case for decades but we can’t come to terms with it, it’s too scary. So we continue to try to recreate the 1970’s and it’s our graduates who are paying the price for it, he says.”

It’s not all bleak says McGowan, who says he’s encouraged by the few colleges and universities who are doing a good job in this area and the entrepreneurial spirit being shown by some of today’s graduates is also encouraging. But there is still work to be done.

“Our graduates are one of the most important assets we have, but we’ve been squandering that asset for decades,” says McGowan. “Instead of being outraged at the number of our graduates who are unemployed or underemployed, we’ve become complacent about it, accepting it as the new normal. The cost of our complacency to the economy must be huge.”

So what exactly is leaving today’s college graduate loaded with debt and without a job? Some things to consider:

  1. Old School Approach: Many colleges and universities – and tenured professors – focus on theory, textbooks, and decades old educational strategies. For example, take the journalism students at one Midwest university. They spent their college years fretting over a Mass Communications law class that 90 percent of graduates never referenced after graduation. Meanwhile, forward-thinking journalism students were getting practical experience and “clips” working at the student newspaper. What got them the job? Not the A in Mass Communications Law. It was the clips and proof of success writing, reporting and showing basic journalism skills required to start in the career.
  2. Not focused on jobs: Colleges and universities don’t focus on helping people get jobs. They focus on education – passing classes and a “general” education that is supposed to prepare them for the real world. The real world is not done in textbooks. More coursework should be based on completing internships, on-the-job training and apprenticeships. That’s why two-year technical college degrees are so valuable – and affordable. They spend their educational career actually using the machines, programs and technology they will need to succeed once they start working in manufacturing, for example. They have on-the-job training so when they apply for jobs they have professional connections and experience to step in and make an immediate impact. College does not demand on-the-job training, which makes no sense.
  3. Failure to prepare for basic job search skills: As McGowan referenced, many colleges don’t require students to write resumes, practice interviewing or even require internships to graduate (although that is pretty rare these days). They fail to train on basic business skills essential to success in any profession, instead relying on the “college experience” to provide the real-world experience. College is the furthest thing from the real world.

Nathan Hatch, the President of Wake Forest University, commented on the approach universities take towards their career-services area: “For years, most liberal-arts schools seemed to put career-services offices somewhere just below parking as a matter of administrative policy.” He has made the career-services area at Wake Forest University a top priority and has allocated the resources needed to ensure its’ success.

Michael S. Roth, the President of Wesleyan University, has created a new career center prominently located on campus and wants the career program “to work with our students from the first year to think about how what they’re learning can be translated into other spheres.”

Six U.S. undergraduate business schools require students to attend classes that prepare them for the process of finding work and they must complete these classes before they can graduate.

Six U.K. further education colleges are working with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to help their graduates create their own jobs. Fintan Donohue, the head of one of them said: “Everyone is in favor of entrepreneurship, but what we’re saying is that colleges like ours need to embrace an entrepreneurial culture.”

Having a degree, even from a top-tier university isn’t going to help graduates find employment in their field unless they’ve also been given the tools and strategies they need to understand today’s workplace and how to succeed in it, says McGowan. It’s time we demanded that they be given these tools and strategies.

“What these examples show is that there’s no excuse for sending our graduates out into the workplace as unprepared as they are currently,” says McGowan.

Written by

Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

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