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When it comes to measuring how well-prepared today’s graduates are for success in the workplace, perceptions vary widely especially when you compare those from employers, academic institutions and the students themselves. Because of this, many workforce leaders are pointing to the need for increased collaboration between the academic and business worlds.

Major attention was first brought to this issue following a study reported on Gallup’s blogspace in 2014 by Gallup and The Lumina Foundation. “A whopping 96% of chief academic officers at higher education institutions say their institution is “very or somewhat” effective at preparing students for the world of work. That’s an awful lot of confidence, considering how U.S. business leaders and the American public judge higher education institutions on this same measure. Gallup found that a mere 14% of Americans strongly agree that college graduates are well-prepared for success in the workplace,” states the blog author.

The focus on soft skills

In a more recent study, Building Tomorrow’s Talent: Collaboration Can Close Emerging Skills Gap by Bloomberg Next and Workday, professionals from business and academia say that college graduates are not well-prepared for today’s professional environment, primarily because of insufficient soft skills. Survey respondents from both groups agreed the most important soft skills are teamwork, analytical reasoning, complex problem-solving, agility, adaptability, and ethical judgment. But respondents also said that new recruits are not meeting expectations in many of the soft skills that they consider the most important such as emotional intelligence, negotiation and persuasion, and, complex reasoning.

Tensie Whelan, director of the Center for Sustainable Business at New York University’s Stern School of Business who is quoted in the report describes the challenge, “This soft-skills deficit is problematic as it suggests new hires are ill-prepared to tackle some of the most difficult and common challenges they will face in today’s workplace. Employees need to have the skills to work with different stakeholders both internally and externally.”

Why are these soft skills so important in today’s digital workplace? According to the McKinsey Global Institute research, the rise of automation, AI and advanced technologies are driving major changes in the skills people need to succeed. But those skills are not just digital. New technologies require people who can “understand how they work and can innovate, develop, and adapt them,” and this means finely tuned social and emotional skills and a higher level of cognitive skills such as creativity, critical thinking, decision making, and complex information processing.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers and its NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition® work to bring together college career services professionals and university relations and recruiting professionals with data, research and guidance. NACE has defined eight key competencies that today’s students need for success. However, its Job Outlook 2018 survey found that there’s a big divide in how students rate themselves in those competencies compared to how employers rate them. The competencies which have the widest gaps between students and employers are Professionalism/Work Ethic, Leadership, and Oral/Written Communications. It’s interesting to note that the only category that employers rated students’ proficiency higher than the students rated themselves is “Digital Technology.”

NACE: Employer vs. Student Perception of Proficiency in Career Readiness Competencies, by Percentage of Respondents

A new collaboration

It’s clear from both the “Building Tomorrow’s Talent” study and the NACE research that hiring organizations and higher education institutions still need to collaborate more effectively to prepare students for employment. A new collaboration launched recently by SkillSurvey and the NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition begins to address the gap by providing higher education organizations and their career services teams proven HR tools that have been used by employers in their hiring process for millions of job candidates.

More than 60 institutions have now signed on as founding members to the pilot project and will be able to use SkillSurvey’s online technology to obtain feedback on students’ post-work and internship experiences. There are eighteen unique post-experience surveys created by I/O psychologists on SkillSurvey’s analytics team that align with the eight key competencies defined by NACE.

With this pilot program, career services centers and other departments will be able to assess how their student employment and internship programs are preparing students with a consistent, easy to use process that will produce uniform data that will allow colleges and universities to benchmark their students’ performance. Institutions will be able to obtain comparative data to see how their students measure up against other students nationally and along with real entry-level candidates in similar roles to monitor progress and improvement.

“We’re excited to partner with the NACE Center for Career Development and Talent Acquisition on this new collaboration between academia and employers to effectively measure student work-related competencies, said Randy Biting, SkillSurvey’s VP, Higher Education and Career Readiness Project Leader. “We’re empowering institutions for the first time with baseline data on how proficient their students are in the eight NACE Career Readiness competencies allowing them to focus on measurable steps they can take to prepare students for greater success in the workplace.”

Learn more about The Career Readiness Project.

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