Why Graduates are Unemployed

by: Delana H. Stewart

The Wall Street Journal article, Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar cap and gown, grads, graduationJobs written in January 2015, revealed research showing approximately 40% of college graduates lacked skills for employment. 17 Was the lack of employability skills the only reason graduates remained unemployed or underemployed? Were universities or students themselves to blame for the lack of skills? Current research unveiled multiple causes for graduate unemployment, such as: outsourcing, delayed retirement, untrained hiring managers, unequipped universities, and ill-prepared students.

In recent years, more companies have outsourced traditional entry-level jobs, which caused a lack of job availability for “younger, less-experienced candidates.”10 An Accenture survey from 2013-2015 showed employers had not invested in entry-level jobs.1 If more employers had looked to recent college graduates to fill entry-level jobs rather than hiring from abroad, then many graduates would not have faced unemployment and underemployment.

A lack of space for new hires due to the delayed retirement of baby boomers also caused college graduate unemployment.10 Baby boomers stayed on the job longer because they lacked “sufficient savings to cover their retirement years.”3 In Canada, the Towers Watson human capital consulting firm confirmed that 75% of Boomers planned to continue working until well past retirement age.30 Many employers expressed concern regarding letting experienced Boomers go.

Employers and hiring managers in today’s marketplace often fail to realize the skill set of millennial graduates. Companies need to realize that in thirty years the Millennials will be running the company, and this generation thinks differently.14 Employers from the baby boomer and Gen X generations often do not understand the Millennials’ need for frequent feedback, and they may be critical of not sharing the same ethics and values.10 U.S. Chamber of Commerce research shows that Millennials bring a great skill set to the marketplace: technical savvy, connected, wired, optimistic, more tolerant of races, multitaskers, more community oriented, more politically engaged, score higher on IQ tests, more assertive, hold higher expectations, and possess a strong entrepreneurial spirit.10 Many employers need to receive training in how to hire and work with Millennials: recognize their enthusiasm, energy, and ability to manage multiple tasks; receive training on how to coach/mentor millennial employees; provide more in the way of support, feedback, context, and interim goals. 10 Companies need to adapt to Millennials’ generational differences and expectations to remain competitive. Those that do what it takes to attract and retain the top talent among Millennials will be the businesses that win. Some of these adaptations include transparency, frequent feedback, efficiency, and a high-tech job application process.27

Even though employers have changes they need to make, students still graduated from universities and colleges unprepared for the work force.  In the Accenture survey from 2013-2015, employers rated recent graduates quite low in “all 17 career-learning outcomes that the survey asked about.” 1 In a survey by Workforce Solutions Group, 60% of employers said applicants lacked communication and interpersonal skills, while a survey by Adecco revealed applicants needed to develop communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.11 In a 2015 survey, 90% of employers believed only 25% of recent graduates were well-prepared in innovation and creativity.4 At Bentley University, one survey showed graduates lacked having an adequate work ethic and were clueless about navigating the office setting. 12 A study done in 2013 regarding the condition of the St. Louis workforce reported that millennials lack communication skills, work ethic, critical thinking, and problem solving. 14 Some employers, like Enterprise Rent-a-car, said they prefer hiring college athletes because they know how to work on teams and multitask. However, even Enterprise found recent college graduates lacked skills in: problem solving, decision making, and the ability to prioritize tasks. 16 In an Association of American Colleges and Universities study in January 2015, employers rated graduates as lacking in these skills: team work, ethical judgment and decision making, organization, written communication, complex problem solving, critical thinking, applying knowledge and skills to real world problems, staying current on global development, and awareness of diverse cultures outside of the U. S. 16 The U.S. Chamber of Commerce research report showed that employers and managers desired to see many of these same skills, plus workplace etiquette, developed in millennials prior to graduation.10 Many colleges, however, reported difficulty in teaching soft skills and trying to undo a lifetime of bad habits.11

Research pointed to a need for universities to address hard skills, too.  The January 2015 Wall Street Journal article revealed tests confirming students lacked competency in reading scatterplots, constructing cohesive arguments, and identifying logical fallacies.17 A Washington Post article showed students lacking proficiency in foreign languages and not staying current on technologies.16 Even though over 2,100 U.S. colleges and universities added an entrepreneurship curriculum, more than half of the students who took these courses felt ill-prepared to start a business.10 A report from research group Project Information Literacy, based on over 1,600 interviewed graduates from ten different colleges and universities, showed higher education failed to prepare graduates to be “lifelong learners able to identify and ask their own questions.”8

Universities were not the only ones to blame, as students had not sought or followed the best degree guidance. A survey by Bentley University confirmed many employers preferred industry-specific skills over a liberal arts degree.12 Some high-school graduates should have considered technical programs and two-year degrees for better employability. The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey of hiring managers from companies like IMB, Chevron, and Seagate recognized the following graduate degrees as most in demand: business, engineering, and computer and information science.13 Only 35.8% of college graduates majored in areas of high demands, such as: physical sciences, computer and information sciences, engineering, business, and biological sciences. Research revealed plenty of jobs in those fields of study (15). Companies like Google began hiring those without college degrees, since the degree no longer signaled someone was “job-ready.”16 While students shouldered the responsibility for getting degree plan guidance, James Rosenbaum of Northeastern University stated that often students received little direction regarding how certain courses related to careers, and he blamed colleges for not paying for better counselors.10

In addition to not seeking or following degree guidance, students failed to look for jobs and internships during and before their college years. A survey by Harris Interactive disclosed the fact that 80% of employers sought graduates who had completed a formal internship.11 Employers wanted to hire graduates who had real-world experience and could discuss which internships they had, how they performed, and what they learned from them.2 They preferred graduates who had: secured multiple internships, taken on leadership roles, and dedicated time outside the classroom to projects and activities.15 Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding and bestselling author of Me 2.0, reported that students struggled to find jobs in part because they failed to “develop their career while in college.” He said, “Students should strive to market themselves online through social networks, and actively network offline, in order to secure internships and jobs.”6

Finally, students failed to do a good job searching for jobs. A study by Millennial Branding and StudentAdvisor.com blamed students’ lack of aggressive preparation for their inability to find jobs upon graduation. They said students who aggressively prepared had a presence on LinkedIn and on WordPress to connect to internship opportunities. These students took advantage of other branding initiatives, such as business cards and personal domains.6 A 2013 Bentley University Study showed students were too laid back about job searches.14 Dan Schawbel concluded that students were often not willing to go beyond social networks for job-searching. He stated that students should have used job boards, career fairs, personal and professional networks, and friend/family referrals.7

While some have blamed universities for graduates lack of employability skills as the reason for graduates not finding employment in today’s market, research revealed universities were only part of the problem.  Companies outsourcing traditional entry-level jobs and baby boomers delaying retirement added to the difficulties faced by college graduates during and following the recession. Students also failed themselves in many ways: not seeking or following good degree guidance, not pursuing multiple internships during college and high school, and not aggressively searching for employment.


  1. 1. 2015 College Grads May Not Be as Ready for the Workplace as They Think They Are by Kaitlin Mulhere. Time Magazine. May 14, 2015. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://time.com/money/3857107/college-graduates-career-ready-overconfident/


  1. College Doesn’t Prepare Students for Full-Time Jobs – Internships Do by: Ryan Smith. June 16, 2015. Fortune. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://fortune.com/2015/06/16/ryan-smith-internship-advice/.

3. Creating Pathways to Prosperity: A Blue Print for Action by Bob Scwartz, Harvard Graduate School of Education. June 2014. PDF accessed online July 20, 2016.

  1. Employers Judge Recent Graduates Ill-Prepared for Today’s Workplace, Endorse Broad and Project-Based Learning as Best Preparation for Career Opportunity and Long-Term Success by: Association of American Colleges and Universities. January 20, 2015. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://aacu.org/press/press-releases/2015employerstudentsurveys.


  1. Internships Help Students Prepare for Workplace by: Caralee J. Adams. Education Week. January 30, 2013. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/01/30/19internship_ep.h32.html.


  1. Millennial Branding and StudentAdvisor.com Release New Study on Student Career Development by: Dan Schawbel. November 2012. Accessed online July 27, 2016 at http://millennialbranding.com/2012/student-career-development-study/


  1. Somebody’s Gotta Get Hired, Right? 6 Tips to Help New Grads Land Job Offers by: Dan Schawbel. Time. May 15, 2012. Accessed online June 18, 2016 at http://business.time.com/2012/05/15/somebodys-gotta-get-hired-right-6-tips-to-help-new-grads-land-job-offers/ .


  1. Study: College graduates often challenged with life skills, motivation for ongoing learning by: Peter Kelley. January 5, 2016. University of Washington Today. Accessed online July 27, 2016 at http://www.washington.edu/news/2016/01/05/study-college-graduates-often-challenged-with-life-skills-motivation-for-ongoing-learning/.


  1. The Baby Boomer paradox: Can delaying retirement hurt productivity? By: Dan Ovsey. Financial Post. January 2013. Accessed online July 27, 2016 at http://business.financialpost.com/productive-conversations/the-baby-boomer-paradox-how-delaying-retirement-and-working-longer-might-hurt-productivity.


  1. The Millennial Generation Research Review by Sally Seppanen and Wendy Gualtieri. U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 2012. Accessed online July 25, 2016 at https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reports/millennial-generation-research-review.


  1. The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t Get Hired by Martha C. White, Time Magazine. November 10, 2013. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://business.time.com/2013/11/10/the-real-reason-new-college-grads-cant-get-hired/.


  1. The Surprising Reason College Grads Can’t Get a Job by Eric Pianin. The Fiscal Times. January 29, 2014. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2014/01/29/Surprising-Reason-College-Grads-Can-t-Get-Job.


  1. The Ten Skills Employers Most Want in 2015 Graduates by: Susan Adams. Forbes. November 2014. Accessed online July 19, 2016 at http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/11/12/the-10-skills-employers-most-want-in-2015-graduates/#4994e14219f6.


  1. What Millennials Don’t Know About the Job Market by: Kelley Holland. CNBC. May 2, 2014. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/05/10/cnbc-millenials-job-market/8914435/.


  1. Where the Jobs Are and the College Grads Aren’t by: Rick Newman. U.S. News and World Report. May 14, 2012. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/rick-newman/2012/05/14/where-the-jobs-are-and-the-college-grads-arent


  1. Why are So Many College Students Failing to Gain Job Skills Before Graduation? By Jeffrey J. Selingo. Washington Post. January 26, 2015. Accessed online July 18, 2016 at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/01/26/why-are-so-many-college-students-failing-to-gain-job-skills-before-graduation/.


  1. Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White Collar Jobs: 40% of Students Seem Ill-Prepared to Enter Work Force; Critical Thinking Key. Wall Street Journal. January 16, 2015. Accessed online July 11, 2016 at http://www.wsj.com/articles/test-finds-many-students-ill-prepared-to-enter-work-force-1421432744.