An important part of my job as an educator is listening to our customers. No, I am not talking about our students – clearly we are here to make sure they receive a quality education – that is a given. But instead I am referring to our other customers – the employers who will one day hire our graduates. It just makes sense. If our curriculum fails to properly prepare students to function effectively in a variety of business sectors, regardless of how much we may think we have done in educating our students in all aspects of business literacy, we have failed to meet the requirements of our valued customers.
Especially in our business school programs, we are always looking for input from prospective employers. Naturally, we invite them to our campus to speak to and recruit our students – all universities do that. But sometimes we meet with employers, successful graduates and others solely to hear from them how we are doing, what is changing in their particular business sector, and how we can better prepare graduates for the jobs of both today and tomorrow. And guess what? They tell us!
My favorite question to ask employers is to identify the number one thing they find is lacking in college graduates today – not just our graduates – ALL graduates. I have heard two consistent responses over the past few years. The first is that many graduates lack writing skills. It’s no surprise that if students enter college with poor writing ability, the curriculum at many colleges and universities does not include the ability to correct the poor training in basic writing skills from middle and high school. Even worse, in graduate programs such as the ones for which I am responsible, we know in the very first week’s assignments whether a student can write effectively. We wonder how they succeeded in their undergraduate degree, and we know that we are unlikely to be able to offer much more than a referral to the school’s writing center.
The second most frequent response from employers regarding graduate shortcomings is the lack of good social skills and the ability to engage others in face-to-face, one-on-one or group discussions and presentations. At a recent gathering of industry employers, I asked the question: “What one thing do you most NOT like in the college graduates you have hired?” One gentleman immediately stood up and said: “I’ll tell you what I don’t like!” And he launched into an awkward and humorous impression of someone texting, solely focused only on his mobile device, oblivious to the world around him. I have to admit that I promptly judged the business executive to be “old school”, but he quickly put that to rest, as he went on: “So I want you to teach ‘em how to use these things, but that’s not how we do deals today. We do deals this way.” And he extended his hand to shake mine, and looked me in the eye. Point taken.
We track our graduates’ job placement rate very carefully. And that doesn’t mean jobs that include “would you like fries with that?” If we are not meeting the demanding needs of employers and making sure students have the skills our customers are telling us they need, we have not properly prepared our graduates. The “real world” we so often refer to is not some artificial virtual reality scenario. It is simply the business world into which our students will soon graduate. Let’s show our customers that we listened and that our graduates are well prepared for the jobs that await them.