Sad Graduate photo from ShutterstockUniversities are failing their graduates in many ways. My purpose in addressing such topics is not to chastise higher education, which I don’t believe can be reformed, but rather to warn future educational consumers and help more recent graduates improve their odds of career success.

Last week I attended a panel discussion on the impact of wireless/mobility technologies on learning systems. One of the panel members from a major Atlanta employer made the statement “Our universities are failing us.” It was clear that what he meant by this was that universities are graduating students without real-world, practical skills and an understanding of how to be a productive member of a corporate team. My reaction was “That’s nothing new.” Perhaps this will be a topic of a future post.

Last week I also had lunch with a recent college graduate who was contemplating his future. He was rightfully proud of being the first person in his family to get a college degree. Not only that, he graduated with honors. He was obviously highly motivated and contemplating going on to get a masters degree and possibly other education. At this point, I felt obliged to warn him that consuming more and more education might not be his best career or life option. Hyping education as a solution to career limitations has become an epidemic. I probably should cover this topic in a future post, too.

However, I want to focus now on the worst way I believe our universities are failing their graduates. They are failing to provide them the skills to make effective career choices, manage their careers, and conduct successful job searches for jobs they actually want.

A recent Gallup survey found that

The underemployment rate, which combines the percentage unemployed with the percentage working part time but wanting full-time work, is 32.8% among those living at home and 15.4% among those living on their own.

When I completed my undergraduate engineering degree program way back in 1971, I had a well-founded optimism. I had a good education and the U.S. economy was continuing its post-WWII job-creating expansion. It was reasonable for me to expect to get a job with a good company and (at my option) work there until I retired. If I chose to change jobs, there were plenty more from which to choose.

Fast forwarding to this century, college graduates over the past 15 years have faced many challenges my generation did not: (1) shrinking of the overall job market, (2) reductions of middle income positions, (3) frequent upheavals of the national economy as well as many industries and professions, and (4) the ongoing march of computer technology. The only reason the unemployment rate for college graduates is not 20-30% at this time is because they have adapted by taking jobs at minimum wage, jobs paying far below what graduates normally are paid, and jobs that don’t match their education or interests.

And why is this? I contend that it is because they are being forced to compete in the worst employment circumstances since the 1940’s with career and job-getting skills no better than what I had when I graduated in the 1970’s. Actually, they are probably worse. (But that’s a subject for another post.)

So, what can be done? Parents need to take more active roles with their college and students and young adult children. They need adult insights into career choices and how to find jobs through personal contacts rather than through online applications. If children won’t listen to parents (which is common) or parents don’t feel competent to help, then they can get children professional help.

More than ever, young adults need career related encouragement, support, and advice. Those of us who are older need to be more understanding of the difficult employment world young workers are facing and volunteer to help them learn how to be successful. With proper guidance, many can overcome the job market challenges and make great careers for themselves.