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Survey Says: College Graduates not Prepared for the Workforce

The economy is slowly showing signs of improvement, but the unemployment rate for recent college graduates remains at 8.9% - higher than the national average. Unemployment in some industries tops 13% for those just launching their career.  Despite recent positive news on the job front, most new graduates are still facing an uphill battle to find work. More surprisingly, according to a new survey commissioned by Woods Bagot, those who are landing those choice positions are failing to impress their bosses. 

With competition so fierce for jobs today, one would think that the ones getting hired to fill those slots would wow their employers. After all, these are the best and brightest, right? Not so fast. 

Woods Bagot, a leading global architectural firm with an eye on constructing tomorrow's institutes of higher learning, commissioned Global Strategy Group, a highly-regarded research firm, to ask the simple question. Are recent college graduates ready for the rigors of today's workforce? The answers may surprise you. 

Of the 500 elite business decision makers surveyed, close to half (49%) believe today's graduates are less prepared for work than they were 15 years ago. The majority (70%) of C-suite executives say that fewer than half of graduates entering their companies have the skills to succeed in entry-level positions.  Dig a little deeper and discover that many top executives also believe that fewer than a quarter (21%) of graduates applying to their company have the skills to advance past thoseentry level jobs. 

As for what it takes to succeed - a smart phone and the ability to gather 8,000 followers on your Twitter page are not as important as you might think. The survey shows that business leaders feel the three most important skills to have when entering the business sector are problem-solving (49%), collaboration (43%) and critical thinking (36%). You know what made the bottom of the list - technological/social media skills (5%). 

According to one survey respondent:  "Younger people are so dependent on shortcuts through texting and other social media that they avoid proper grammar and interpersonal verbal skills that are necessary in the 'working world.'"  From another: "[Students] can make computers and software dance, but struggle to interpret the results."

Jeffrey Holmes, principal at Woods Bagot, agrees that many students are not learning the skills that they will need to face a rapidly changing, global workplace. He states that one aspect of the problem lies in the classrooms, adding that they haven't changed much in a century. Holmes believes today's institutes of higher education are relying on new technology to serve as a band-aid of sorts for the fact that most schools remain outdated and unable to meet the needs of business leaders. Business leaders agree.

According to the survey, 49% of respondents believe educational facilities are doing a fair or poor job of preparing students for the business sector. Beyond that, 77% of business leaders say the physical space where students learn is important to fostering the skills they deem critical for success in the business world. About 63% add that small meeting rooms centered around a work space are most conducive to preparing students for what they will face in the real world. On the opposite side of the coin, only 20% believe traditional classrooms or lecture halls work best. 

Woods Bagot designs institutes of higher education.  Not surprisingly, they believe that space plays a significant role in driving towards a solution.  Holmes says that the new business leaders of tomorrow will not be fostered just through new teaching practices -- nor by simply throwing money away at ever-changing technology. He believes schools should begin embracing the new world technology is creating by moving away from teacher-centered learning where students listen and memorize and into a classroom setting where the teacher is a facilitator for conversation and collaboration. 

"What is desperately needed is an integrated approach to creating collaborative learning environments that bring together new strategies, new spaces and new technologies to maximize opportunities to improve critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration," he explains. "The classroom of the future is student centered; it is collaborative supporting multiple learning modalities; and it is supported, but not overwhelmed, by flexible technologies."

New construction creates new jobs.  New construction that also creates better business leaders sounds even better.  Will this help? Are recent graduates really worse off than they were 15 years ago? The perception seems to be yes, but if that is the case, what else needs to be done to get graduates back in line and ahead of their predecessors? You tell us. 

To access the full data from Woods Bagot's research and to learn more about the methodology behind the research, click here

--Jon Minners

Read additional career insights from John Minners on is the source of employer and education ratings, rankings and insight for highly credentialed, in-demand candidates. Vault's editorial mission is to empower candidates with unbiased research needed to evaluate the professions, industries and companies they aspire to join.  


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