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Students Feel More Secure About Getting Jobs, But Skills Gaps Persist

College students are showing more confidence in their ability to get jobs in their career areas. More than four in 10 (41 percent) said they were "extremely" or "very" prepared, compared to about three in 10 (29 percent) last year. And far fewer students said they were "slightly" or "not at all" prepared this year than last year (17 percent compared to 31 percent).

Men were far more likely to feel prepared than women: 50 percent compared to 36 percent. Also, non-traditional students, those who didn't enter college within a year of completing high school, were more likely to feel prepared than traditional students (49 percent vs. 34 percent). Students in vocational and technology programs were far more likely to consider themselves extremely prepared for work than any other discipline; for example, while 40 percent of vocational students stated that, for social sciences, the next highest discipline, just 13 percent said the same.

These results came from the latest McGraw-Hill Education Future Workforce Survey. The 2018 online survey, conducted by MMR Research Associates during March and April 2018, queried 1,000 U.S. college students to better understand how they feel about their preparedness for both college and career.

A gap continues to exist between how prepared students consider themselves for work in specific skill areas and how employers perceive student readiness. To develop these results, the survey turned to a study published in April 2018 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The perception gap was widest for career management; whereas 53 percent of students said their skills in that area were work-ready, just 18 percent of employers said so as well. While 77 percent of students said their professionalism and work ethic were work-ready, just 43 percent of employers agreed. And even though 61 percent of students considered their leadership skills sufficient for the job, 33 percent of employers said the same.

graph of the availability of career resources at colleges

The availability of career resources at colleges. Source: McGraw-Hill Education Future Workforce Survey

The perceptions also went in the other direction, though not as dramatically. Employers were more likely than the students themselves to believe students are better prepared in the areas of digital technology (66 percent vs. 61 percent) and teamwork/collaboration (77 percent vs. 73 percent).

In the area of career preparation, students reported that their college courses and instructors were the most helpful (56 percent and 35 percent, respectively). A slight majority (51 percent) also believe that more internships and professional experiences would have been helpful in preparing them for their future careers. Yet, less than half of respondents take advantage of the campus resources that could lead to those experiences. For instance, whereas most students said their schools run job fairs (75 percent) and that they had access to career advisers (71 percent), resume support (60 percent) and internships (60 percent), half or fewer said they use those same resources. Among those who use them, a large majority find the resources helpful. Likewise, the students who use career resources reported feeling more prepared for their careers.

"While it's encouraging that student perception of career readiness is up year-over-year, much more work is required to ensure that students graduate with the confidence, skills and resources needed to enter the workforce," said Bill Okun, president of higher education at McGraw-Hill Education, in a prepared statement. "To successfully transition from college to employment, students need help applying knowledge in a real-world context and developing the critical thinking and communication skills that they'll need on the job. This is a major area of focus for McGraw-Hill as we work with educators to unlock the potential of each individual learner."

The "Future Workforce Survey" report is available with registration through McGraw-Hill Education's website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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