We want our students to have good careers when they graduate. We’ve worked hard to get them through their early years of school and to send them to college. We are ready for them to launch. But are they prepared?
For the most part, the answer is yes. Students who take their college work seriously, who take advantage of opportunities and of resources available, graduate ready for their career. The schools that our students attend, from kindergarten through high school and then college, work to give students the education that they need. However, students and parents alike may be surprised to learn that some of the skills that benefit students the most in their careers are not learned in the classroom.
Parents can have a lasting influence on how their students learn the key skills that will help them succeed. Some recent studies have shed light on the importance of some of these “softer” skills. We think it’s important for parents to see this information so that they recognize the value of their influence.
What follows are some of the findings of the 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey and last spring’s McGraw-Hill Education 2016 Workforce Readiness Survey. Both surveys point out important skills that students need to succeed in the workforce. And as you will see, many of these skills may be sharpened outside of the classroom.
Non-academic skills matter a lot
The ACT National Curriculum Survey received responses from over 9,000 elementary, middle and high school teachers, college professors, and workplace supervisors and employees about education practices and college and career readiness. One of the overwhelming findings was the high value employees and supervisors placed on non-academic skills for success.
Characteristics which were rated most highly as skills for workplace success were
- acting honestly (treating others fairly, being sincere and genuine),
- sustaining effort (staying focused, persisting through challenges, completing work),
- getting along with others (cooperating, working effectively in groups),
- maintaining composure (calm when stressed, being confident).
Surprised? We were. Most important for parents, these are skills that we can help our students practice. These are skills developed over a lifetime. We can’t leave it all up to schools.
Employers were also asked what areas of weakness would provide the greatest obstacles for success for a new employee. What would stand in the way of advancement? The five top-ranked characteristics were
- conscientiousness (attention to detail, completing work)
- problem solving (finding solutions to difficult or complex issues)
- speaking and listening skills
- content knowledge
- critical thinking
Again, there is great emphasis on non-academic skills. And skills are honed with practice. Helping your student practice these skills outside of the school environment not only sharpens them, but reinforces their value.
What do students have to say?
The McGraw-Hill Education 2016 Workforce Readiness Survey drew responses from 1350 college students about their career readiness and their perceptions of their college experience. The survey attempted to understand what schools are doing to prepare students for the transition to the workforce, how students view their early career goals, and how they think their college experiences have prepared them for next steps.
According to McGraw-Hills U.S. Education Group President Peter Cohen in a Huffington Post article, “Investing in and graduating from college is a pathway to professional success, yet a majority of students say they don’t feel college has been helpful in job preparation.” That’s a strong statement, and it is based on results of this survey which indicate that only 40% of students feel their college preparation was “very helpful” for their career.
Were they ready for college?
It may be helpful to begin by looking at how students felt when they began the college experience:
- 61% of students felt they were adequately prepared for college courses based on their high school work.
- 25% of students felt somewhat unprepared
- 6% of students felt completely unprepared
How do students feel about their career preparation?
The results of this survey should give us all food for thought. Here are some of the findings:
- 21% of students feel very prepared for their professional career (24% of these are male and only 19% female. Students in arts and humanities feel less prepared and those in the social sciences feel the least prepared.)
- 78% of students believe that interpersonal skills are most important to being a good job candidate. (According to the ACT Curriculum Survey, they are right.)
- 67% of students believe that having a marketable degree and good grades are most important as a job candidate.
- 86% of students believe that available career resources are helpful but only 78% of students used them while attending college.
- 70% of students feel somewhat to very optimistic about their job prospects.
- 79% of students feel somewhat to very satisfied with their college experience (82% for females and 74% for males.)
How do students feel about their job priorities?
In addition to asking students about their job preparation, this survey also asked students to respond about their job planning and priorities.
When asked about career planning and what was important to them,
- 93% of students said they valued living a well-rounded, happy life
- 91% of students said they valued finding a rewarding job
- 87% of students said they valued finding a well-paying job
- 72% of students said they valued finding a job with social responsibility or an opportunity to give back
- More than 75% of students value doing what they love over being well paid.
There’s a lot of data here. And while data may be interesting, as a parent of a college student or high school student looking at college, what do you do with all of this? First, we think you begin talking (and listening). Talk to your student’s high school and see if they are aware of the numbers. Can they do anything to help students feel more prepared to begin college?
Talk to your student. Share this information and ask your student’s reaction. Ask your student how she would respond to some of the questions. This is another opportunity to get to know your student better. You might be surprised at some of her responses.
Help your student think about what she can do now to ensure that she has the skills that she needs down the road and that she makes the most of her college years to prepare herself. College is about so much more than career preparation, but taking advantage of all that is available, holding yourself to high standards, and looking ahead will certainly help your student be ready for life after college.
Prepared to launch.