In a November 10, 2013 Time Magazine article, titled “The Real Reason New College Grads Can’t get Hired”, various surveys were reported as suggesting there is one explanation for failed grad job hunts: a lack of “soft skills”, such as:
- Effective communication
- Problem solving
- Critical thinking
- Other interpersonal skills
However, the details, weight and merits of that evidence aside, extreme caution should be exercised before even allowing the claim that the sole “real reason” has been identified—a warning I sounded about “the reason”-thinking in a previous article, “The Real Reason Why We Need Recruiters”.
To accept that there are no other reasons except that one would be like accepting the idea that there is only one real reason anyone accepts a job offer: It would be a mistake, because either it’s simply not true that there is only one “real reason”, or that reason is vacuously explanatory, e.g., “because the applicant’s cost-benefit analysis compelled acceptance”.
The Reason Rain Puddles Exist
Moreover and universally speaking, for anything at all to happen in this universe, a complex chain or web of factors must come into play to bring about the result. Hence, looking for “the real reason” many in the pool of new grads don’t get hired is like looking for the real reason stagnant rain puddles exist.
In fact, there countless reasons, i.e., factors, including the law of gravitation, the traffic and topology of the ground surface, the moisture content and temperature of the rain clouds, the nature of hydrogen bonding between water molecules, the details of local soil drainage, to mention but a significant few.
Claims about “the reason” should be construed as, at best, a focus on one actually universal factor, e.g., “the cause of malaria” [selectively and universally identified as the female anopheles mosquito, rather than the stagnant pools of water they require for breeding, or the parasite they transmit] or, at worst, as disregard for all alternative and operative reasons.
In the case of new grad unemployment, the latter appears to be the case. A lack of soft skills aside, there are still countless contrasting—and not just contributing— factors and reasons, some obvious, some quite subtle, that help explain why any given grad can’t get hired.
Some of these reasons, presented below, were offered in comments by protesting grads, by critics of those grads and other commentators in disagreement with the one-size-fits-all reason proposed by the Time article.
Other Reasons for New Grad Job Woes
Among alternative reasons offered by the article’s commenting critics were these:
1. “The skills gap is just a lie to try to push down wages and outsource. And those hundreds of job postings that you see on corporate websites that go unfilled for months and continually get recycled aren’t real. They are just a ploy to signal health to investors.”—Josh73
[This suggests that a reason for continued grad unemployment is a problem with job supply and unacceptable wages, not (just) applicant quality.]
2. “If you [an employer] have your heart set on an engineer with high communication and critical thinking skills, then one of your only safe bets is an engineer with an MBA; but fewer employers are willing to pay the amounts those people rightfully command. If employers persist in screening out candidates with good technical skills in favor of ‘creative critical thinkers’ then they are never going to find good staff.”—again, Josh 73
[Here, scarcity and incompatible demands—e.g., for the rare candidate who, through temperament, talent and training, is both a “convergent” and “divergent” thinker and one who won’t expect to be paid accordingly—is cited as a factor obstructing the hiring of some new grads.
However unlikely it is to account for a substantial number of cases, this scenario does suggest that the unacceptable cost of a “total package” that includes this kind of soft skill can be as much of a reason for not being hired as the lack of soft skills is alleged to be.]
3. “The Gen-Xers you describe as non-workers are simply stifled by the economic reality of our times—half dazed (the second element being psychology) and half doomed by the Marginal Productivity of Labour cost curve (economics again) of the firm. Any additional worker hire[d] after this person then has to prove constant results in a firm faced with diminishing returns to labour.”—Eben10”
[This subtle argument presupposes that most employers and HR managers think along equally subtle lines of marginal cost and benefit analysis when contemplating hiring another employee.
Alternatively, it can be taken as suggesting that when these grads fail to achieve the false productivity expectations, it will become harder for the next grad to get a job offer from that organization—because of his or her projected low marginal utility to the company.]
4. “As an undergrad engineer three months from graduating, I would just like to point out that this lack of interpersonal skills might not be a ‘lac’” at all. It’s a completely different stage to go from interacting with students in college on team projects to grown adults in the workforce. Being a woman and an engineer, that gap just widens. While these skills I agree cannot be taught, a person will adapt with time.”—tg_teja
[Here, it’s being proposed that a real reason why some, if not many, new grads are not being hired is that employers and recruiters are misinterpreting an initial lack of soft skills as permanent.]
Other “real reasons” are easily imagined and examinable:
- Universities and the majors chosen are not equipping graduates with the right hard skills. This means the education-job market interface is inadequate and at least partly responsible for grad unemployment.
- Outsourcing, automation, slow economic recovery and ferocious competition for remaining “good jobs” are prolonging new grad unemployment.
- Delayed retirement of baby boomers, forced by collapsed pension plans and investment portfolios, is blocking entry of many new grads.
- New grads have, relative to the new, daunting job market and work conditions, horribly disappointed expectations, to which they cannot readily resign themselves by compromising during the search and application process.
- Internships are not sufficient in number or appeal to provide the all-important “experience” credential employers are looking for [an issue cited in the Time article].
- A very high rate of non-traffic arrests of U.S. males in the under-24 age bracket may be a factor in new grad unemployment to the extent that those arrested include recent college graduates whose arrests become known to employers.
At 38%-49% [depending on race and ethnicity], the percentages are up from an overall average of 34% in 1967, an era of widespread anti-war protests, clashes with police, countless minor drug arrests and idealized vagrancy.
A January 20, 2014 ABC News story, focusing on the nearly 50% arrest rate among African-American men, reported that “Rev. Dr. Robert Waterman, a pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Brooklyn, said the high arrests rates for young black men create a troubling cycle, where criminal records lead to difficulties gaining lawful employment, which then results in criminal behavior and more arrests.” [Hispanic arrest rates, second highest, at 43%, carry similar implications.]
By the same token, given that almost 40% of white males in that age group have been arrested at least once for non-vehicular offenses, don’t the following statistics, for educational attainment rates of Americans over 25, suggest it is reasonable to expect some new grads are finding it hard to get a job because of their arrest and/or conviction records?
Associate’s and/or Bachelor’s degree
Doctorate or professional degree
In light of these staggeringly high arrest-rates and all the other considerations discussed above, shouldn’t they be explored as reasons for new grad job-hunt woes…
…even if, like “lack of soft skills”, none is the reason?