SALARIES / FEB. 02, 2015
version 2, draft 2

Report Reveals The Perception Gap Between Employers And Graduates

In a recent post, Wharton’s Peter Capelli spoke about the perceived skills gap between what employers want from graduates, and the skills that graduates tend to be emerging from university with.  He suggests that employers are often a part of the problem, as their training of new recruits often leaves a lot to be desired.

These issues often turn into something of a blame game, as emphasised by a recent survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU), which asked both employers and graduates about their careers, and the skills they believed were crucial to success in the workplace.

The results suggest that graduates think their university education is actually fantastic preparation for the world of work and is giving them all of the skills required to thrive. When employers were asked, however, they painted a much bleaker picture.

The survey saw both employers and students asked a number of questions about career preparation in order to try and understand the thinking of both sides.

The Skills Gap

The results chime with previous studies conducted by the AACU in that employers expressed concern about the skill levels of graduates, especially in softer areas such as team working and communication.  Indeed, the results revealed that employers were much more interested in these skills than which subject students had studied.

In addition to the 400 or so employers surveyed as part of the research, the AACU also gauged the opinion of over 600 students. The results revealed a rather worrying gap in perception between students and their future employers.  For instance, in crucial areas such as written communication, critical thinking, creativity and oral communication, students were over twice as likely to believe they were suitably equipped in these areas as employers did. It was only in technical skills that the gap narrowed slightly, with 37 percent of employers thinking students have the required skills versus 46 percent of students thinking they do.

"When it comes to the types of skills and knowledge that employers feel are most important to workplace success, large majorities of employers do NOT feel that recent college graduates are well prepared. This is particularly the case for applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings, critical thinking skills, and written and oral communication skills — areas in which fewer than three in 10 employers think that recent college graduates are well prepared. Yet even in the areas of ethical decision-making and working with others in teams, many employers do not give graduates high marks," the report reveals.

All of which is not a particularly optimistic picture, but it is not all bad news. When employers were asked whether it was crucial that a new hire had specific skills relevant to that particular job, or whether a broader range of knowledge combined with some specific skills was best, the vast majority went for this latter option, with specific skills favoured by just 15 percent of respondents.

Nevertheless, it seems that much more work is required in order to better align the skills graduates are emerging with and the skills that employers say they want. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve recently graduated from university and entered the workplace. Did you find your skills were a good match or did you need to undergo training to get you up to speed?

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