Employer Survey Results

Employers Rate Internships and Work Experience As Most Important Criteria for Hiring College Graduates; Although Deeper Look Shows How Much They Still Value Liberal Arts Outcomes.

Notable Results for Public Institutions and Manufacturing Sector in Employer Survey.

Maguire Associates surveyed over 700 executives, managers and Human Resources professionals at private, public and not-for-profit employers that hire college graduates. The results were unveiled earlier this month by our partners, The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace broadcast hosted by Kai Ryssdal.  Click here to read the full article.  

Discussion of the survey in this issue of Insights is offered with three important caveats:

  • First, we share the view that the college experience is about developing and inspiring a thoughtful, engaged citizenry and not solely about employment outcomes. And yet, employment results clearly matter.
  • Second, while employers believe colleges and universities need improvement in some areas, a solid majority (69%) of them say that institutions are doing good-to-excellent work producing successful employees.
  • Finally, we acknowledge the longstanding tug-of-war between institutions and employers over where responsibility for employment preparation begins and ends. We believe great benefit can accrue to institutions that set this “education vs. training” argument aside and, instead, use meaningful employer feedback to build credible employment brands.

In that spirit, here are four insights from the survey with suggestions for interpreting and utilizing them:

1. Total Work Experience: The Chronicle reported that internships “make the difference” when employers assess recent graduates. Indeed, internships ranked first among eight academic and employment criteria considered by respondents (Figure 1.1). It is worth noting, too, that Employment During College placed second on the list and that Volunteer Experience and Extracurricular Activities ranked behind College Major but ahead of other academic categories such as Relevance of Coursework, College GPA and College Reputation.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1

These findings suggest that institutions broaden their understanding of “work experience” and embrace the overall working lives of students. Employment during college is understandably seen by some institutions as a challenge, especially if it detracts from academic performance. However, we suggest viewing appropriate levels of employment as an opportunity. Working students are an inevitable fact of college life these days and, besides, it is clear that employers want to see work experience on graduates’ resumes (Figure 1.2). So where and how do experiential learning and the “value of work” appear in your institutional messaging?

 Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2

2. The Case for Liberal Arts: A troubling paradox today finds the market continuing to impugn the value of a liberal arts education while employers repeatedly stress the need for it – in all but name. Marketplace’s Kai Rysdall said in his reporting of the survey results that some of “today’s grads just aren’t cutting it.” This owes to the view held by many employers that graduates lack communications, critical thinking and problem solving skills (Figure 2.1). Employers may rate internships and work experience highest in this survey, but a closer examination of the results underscores that they seek – and can’t always find – college graduates with demonstrable liberal arts outcomes.

Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1

This finding encourages institutions to invest in the liberal arts and the teaching of written and oral communications. Some colleges and universities already possess strong capabilities here. For them, it may be a matter of more powerfully asserting the case for the liberal arts and connecting that argument directly to employability. Employers are unequivocally telling us that they want graduates who can translate technical expertise and complex data into cogent, meaningful and persuasive arguments. Isn’t it time to acknowledge that the split between the liberal arts and employment is a false dichotomy?

3. Good Story for Publics: Job candidates from Flagship Public Colleges are most popular among employers in the study, followed by graduates of Private Not-For-Profit Colleges in a virtual tie with alumni of Regional Campuses of a Public College (Figure 3.1). Interestingly, in this measure of desirability by college type, employers from both the Manufacturing and Government/Non-Profit sectors also place graduates of Regional Campuses of a Public College higher than those from Private Not-For-Profit Colleges (Figure 3.2).

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2

We’ve previously written about the ascendency and growing competitiveness of public colleges and universities. The Great Recession reminded many students and parents of the cost advantages of public education, at least for in-state students. Now here’s evidence that graduates of public colleges and universities are a preferred choice among many employers. If the “value” equation is the relationship between quality (especially outcomes) and cost, public institutions certainly have a compelling story to tell. So why aren’t we hearing more about it?

4. Manufacturing Matters: Of all sectors in the study, Manufacturing and Service/Retail tied for first (effectively) in asserting that a Bachelor’s degree is worth more now than five years ago (Figure 4.1). The Education and Government/Non-Profit sectors actually showed a decrease in this “value” measure over five years, likely due to growing requirements for advanced degrees in those fields. Understanding the evolution of advanced manufacturing – fields such as aerospace, life sciences, medical devices, semi-conductors and nano-technology – can create tangible opportunities for institutions and their Career Services offices. Manufacturing career choices have not been held in high regard traditionally but, in the scientific and technological realm of advanced manufacturing, that may no longer be the case.

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1

Advanced manufacturing is driving a renaissance in overall U.S. manufacturing, though brand-name employers are not finding enough high-quality college graduates to handle the growth. Several years ago, at the nadir of the Great Recession, the New England Council reported that, “Employers are actually struggling in some cases to fill high-paying jobs, with an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 advanced-manufacturing positions left unfilled” in our home region of New England alone. We believe students are well served by knowing the opportunities available to them in changing, growing segments of the economy such as advanced manufacturing.

Summary

There are seemingly countless observations to be drawn from this employer survey. We’re happy to discuss them with you. In addition to the excellent coverage provided by The Chronicle and Marketplace, we decided to focus on four of the most interesting and useful points:

  • Consider students’ total work commitment in designing, funding, positioning and promoting your institutional experience and outcomes, not just internships.
  • Stay focused on providing and promoting the liberal arts and communications skills employers say they want, though they don’t necessarily call them the liberal arts. Find ways to help students better communicate their technical and subject-matter expertise.
  • Public institutions have a “value” story to tell. Your graduates compete well in the employment market and you already have credibility on the cost side of the equation.
  • Don’t overlook the growth and growing sophistication of the advanced manufacturing sector and fields such as nano-technology and medical devices. Career Services offices that understand this potential could provide their students and institutions with distinct competitive advantage. MIT certainly does.

One final thought. Employers prefer college graduates from institutions they know. That’s why more than one-third of employers told us they are less likely to consider a candidate from an “unknown” college. We remind clients all the time of the need to build institutional awareness further up their recruitment pipeline. This should occur while they’re also shaping the attitudes and actions of the geometrically smaller pool of inquirers and applicants that exists further down the pipeline. Being invisible on employers’ radar screens can have profound consequences.

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Stay tuned for the results of our recently completed survey of college and university presidents. It will be interesting to compare and contrast the views of presidents on some of the same questions raised here with employers.

As always, we welcome your views and feedback at thenetwork@maguireassoc.com.

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