In every place that I have worked, I have witnessed employers quickly and willingly allow much of recent graduates’ education go to waste. After several years of work experience, former students often say that only a fraction of their skills and capabilities are being utilized by their employer. At the same time, employers come to us saying that higher education fails to teach students the knowledge and skills necessary to prosper in the workplace.
Having worked in industry for a number of years, I push back on managers whenever I hear this complaint. I remind them that student’s education does not end with a B.S. or an M.B.A. degree, and that an employer has important responsibilities to all employees that are usually left unattended (on average for an organization, though some managers take their responsibilities seriously). I remind managers that they should build upon recent graduate’s education by doing the following things:
- Lead in ways that don’t undercut teamwork.
- Establish a no-blame environment.
- Make it safe to take risks and try new things.
- Personally develop people through ongoing teaching, training, and coaching.
- Be fair (non-zero-sum).
- Encourage and reward critical thinking. Make it OK to ask “Why?”
- Want better presentation skills? Give them specific feedback in a non-blaming, non-judgmental way.
- Want better writing skills? Give specific feedback on the writing that is required for the particular job. And, set an example by writing something yourself.
- Want better problem-solving? Personally teach and mentor new hires how to do formal root cause analysis (e.g. A3 reports).
- Be a role model: Continue to read, study, write, and learn, and share what you have learned with others.
The recommendations that employers make to faculty, in particular, would be better received if managers could demonstrate their commitment to consistently doing each of these things. It would also lead to a more collaborative approach to continuously improving higher education.
See the related post, “What Employers Want.”