Can We Do More to Help New Grads Find Work?

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Sad gradThe economy is improving, but recent college grads are still having a rough time in the “real world.” According to the Economic Policy Institute, recent college graduates face an 8.5 percent unemployment rate and a 16.8 percent underemployment rate.

We can partially blame the economy for this, but we can also chalk some of it up to the mistakes that young job seekers make. Some recent grads don’t apply to enough jobs: 44 percent of them only apply to five jobs at a time. Many grads also fail to take advantage of the Web: only 26 percent of them try to find jobs through social media sites. (Stats via Forbes.)

But regardless of where we lay the blame, we need a solution. My question is: can we — employers, recruiters, HR professionals, and all the other players in the hiring apparatus — do more to help new graduates find work?

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) seems to think so — and I agree.

How Employers Fail Recent Grads

In the Spring of 2013, Debra Humphreys, vice president of the office of communications, policy, and public engagement at AAC&U, made a bold statement:

Employers may need to alter their recruiting and hiring practices in order to discover talent wherever it can be found in colleges and universities. While AAC&U respects the opinions of the business and nonprofit leaders who have participated in our surveys, we do not presume that their recruiting and hiring practices are fully aligned with what is needed for the long-term success of either their employees or their businesses or organizations.

As an example of employers’ poor hiring practices, Humphreys cites the ATS, calling it a “destructive” technology and lamenting the way it “works against the effort to find the best educated and most talented graduates.” 

Humphreys is not alone in condemning the use of ATSs: these facile systems turn the complex process of recruiting into a game of superficial buzzwords, and many in the hiring industry agree with Humphreys. Liz Ryan of the Human Workplace drove the point home when she wrote:

Applicant tracking systems don’t inquire about what you learned at a job, what you left in your wake, or what you view as your greatest accomplishment. Our selection mechanism is stuck in 1940, interested only in the tasks and duties and tools you used, as though those things out of context could have any significance to your next boss at all.

Aside from ATSs that filter candidates based on insubstantial criteria, the hiring world has another problem: the so-called skills gap. In the past, I’ve argued that employers perpetuate the very skills gap they bemoan by fetishizing passive candidates and failing to invest in training programs that would help entry-level employees and recent graduates learn necessary, job-specific skills. I stand by these assertions: very little has changed since the March in which I made that assessment.

Building Partnerships between Educators and Employers

Again: I don’t want to spend too much time playing the blame game. Regardless of who is at fault, the fact still remains: recent grads face a bleak employment situation, and we need to change that — for the good of our nation as a whole.

Unfortunately, companies can be notoriously selfish, prone to dismiss any call to action that does not serve their bottom line. So let’s put the problem of un- and underemployment for recent grads in business-friendly terms: employers can either choose to sit back and wait for the skills gap to solve itself, or they can take an active role in solving it.

To help improve the employment outlook for recent grads — and solve the skills gap, in a way — the AAC&U has started the LEAP Employer-Educator Compact. This initiative brings together college and university presidents and business and nonprofit leaders for the purpose of working together “to provide more opportunities for internships and experiential learning,” which better prepare recent grads for the job market. 

This is how we solve both the skills gap and the employment crisis for young workers: partnerships between educators and employers, where both parties take active roles in cultivating the future workforce. As Humphreys says,

“Forward-thinking business and nonprofit leaders know that their future success—and the future success of our nation—depends on whether our colleges and universities graduate liberally educated professionals who are prepared to fuel innovation and effective problem solving in fast-paced global environments.”

Employers, recruiters, HR pros, and all the rest, I leave you with a question: would you like to join the forward-thinkers, or would you rather voluntarily cling to the (bleak) past?



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Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of