McKinsey and Company Report Confirms – Grads Not Ready for the Marketplace

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Now another study by McKinsey, in collaboration with Chegg, surveyed nearly 5,000 college graduates to gauge their attitudes on a range of issues.

Their report is called Voice of the Graduate.

I’ve been impressed with McKinsey’s focus on education.  A previous and exhaustive report, Education to Employment, surveyed 8,000 executives and examined 100+ best education best practices.  McKinsey is looking at the long political, economic and human costs of a generation of workers who are unemployed or underemployed.  Their reports are attempting to get business leaders and higher education professionals to the same table to discuss how they can help more grads transition with the RIGHT knowledge and skills to their first professional jobs.

The results of Voice of the Graduate to a large extent were predictable.  The study showed:

  1. Students felt unprepared for the world of work.
  2. Half of those surveyed indicated they would have picked another major or different school if they had to do it all over again.
  3. A large percent didn’t do due diligence in their college searches to explore stats and facts about college graduation and employment rates.
  4. Most graduates adopt a “do it yourself” approach to their job searches.
  5. The VAST majority of grads do NOT use their college career centers or tap into their alumni networks.

The report suggests these graduates are entering a world where their knowledge and skills are mismatched for the jobs available in the workplace.  The types of jobs in demand today are different than those 20 years ago.  Jobs today require specialized skills that graduates are not acquiring through their college courses. Business leaders are sharing their concerns about this issue and looking to higher ed for solutions.

The report identified 8 key findings from the research on student attitudes and poised questions we ask ourselves on how we can improve or fix the situation that is affecting grads. The 8 key findings are that grads:

  1. are overqualified
  2. are underprepared
  3. have regrets
  4. haven’t done homework
  5. are disappointed
  6. are asking “Can I help you?”
  7. are suffering the choice of Liberal arts
  8. are taking a do-it-yourself attitude

 8 Key Findings:

 Grads Are Over Qualified

Students in the study echoed student sentiments from a recent analysis from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed that 48 percent of employed US college graduates are in jobs that require less than a four year college education.  The most important question they asked in this area was:

Are there ways to better tailor the educational experience to employer needs and student prospects, both as a matter of skill acquisition and cost effectiveness?

Grads Are Underprepared

According to the survey, one-third of graduates of four-year colleges did not feel college prepared them well for employment.  The authors suggested we think out of the box.

Is it a paradox that so many graduates feel overqualified, yet also underprepared – or does it suggest that colleges could offer more courses and programs aimed directly at “life skills” needed for success in the workplace?

 Grads Have Regrets

The survey found that if they had to do it all over again, 53 percent of grads would have done something differently, for example–chosen a different major, or gone to a different college.  To start a discussion on your campus the authors suggested you ask the following question:

Although some desire for “do-overs” may be inevitable, would greater efforts to educate high-school students about how to judge their potential fit with institutions and fields help reduce regrets? Are there examples of success in this area that could be studied and expanded?

 Grads Haven’t Done Their Homework

Policy makers, including the president, governors and the media are forcing colleges to help educate parents and students about how effective their educations have been to help grads get jobs and build successful careers.

The study showed half of graduates did not look at graduation rates when picking a college, and four in ten didn’t look at job placement or salary records.   The authors suggested we ask ourselves:

Should colleges and universities take bolder steps to track and publish such data voluntarily in order to stem the drive for new laws and regulations that may place unreasonable burdens on them and create unintended consequences?

Grads Are Disappointed

The survey found that half of the nation’s graduates could not find work in the fields they had hoped for.  Graduating from the country’s top schools didn’t help much in this area.  Four of ten grads from the top 100 colleges couldn’t get jobs in their chosen fields!   Two important questions the authors suggest you ask on your campus are:

Are there better ways to educate high-school students about potential opportunities in different fields so that they develop more realistic expectations about their chances for employment?

Does the scale of unmet expectations suggest that colleges need to improve their career counseling functions, and how?

 Grads Are Asking “Can I help you?”

The annual UCLA HERI survey of incoming freshman showed that 88 percent are going to college to improve their chances of getting good jobs.  However, this study found that 6 times as many graduates are working in retail or hospitality as those who originally noted a desire to work in those fields.   This year 120,000 graduates will “settle” for jobs as waiters, salespeople, cashiers and baristas.  The authors ask:

If retail and restaurant jobs are destined to be fast-growing categories of work, are there ways to rethink the value proposition of these jobs so that more graduates feel happier choosing them?

Grads Are Suffering the Choice of Liberal Arts

Graduates who majored in liberal arts and performing arts fare the worst across every measure;  they tend to be lower paid, deeper in debt, less happily employed and slightly more likely to wish they’d done things differently.   Knowing this, why couldn’t the deans of the colleges take a more active role in helping their students understand how to communicate to prospective employers about how their knowledge and skills prepare them to manage the jobs at hand?  A question to consider asking your deans is:

How might educational institutions and stakeholders galvanize new efforts so that the many benefits of a liberal-arts education do not come at the expense of employment prospects?

Grads Choose a Do-it-Yourself Attitude

This one hurts anyone involved in career education.  According to the study, less than 40 percent of graduates used career services and less than 30 percent tapped into alumni networks to find jobs.  Ouch!  A rare insight was offered by students on what the career center could have done that would have encouraged them to use those resources:

  • 23 percent across all institution types would have liked a career placement service.
  • 18 percent would have liked an opportunity for real world experience.
  • 13 percent would have liked more practical skills development in class.

An important question rarely asked in attempting to better prepare students for the college-to-corporate transition was:

What role might life-skills programs play in improving the transition from college to employment?

How can you get more students to take ownership of their careers?

We introduced a simple, turn-key solution to this problem.  Check out our CareerParents Online Community.  The program gets parents to encourage their son or daughter take ownership of their career the minute he/she arrives on campus!


The report was not designed to offer solutions but to give a voice to the millions of graduates entering the workplace who will be shocked to learn their $100,000 investment did not position them for jobs within their fields or even interests.

In summary, the report offered the following suggestions:

  1. Provide more experiential learning opportunities, from internships and co-op work to meaningful volunteering opportunities.
  2. Provide modules on workplace skills that give students an essential grounding in how to function effectively in professional environments.
  3. Provide more transparency on the return on investment a student will get from his or her education by providing graduation rate, time to employment, and salary ranges.  More importantly, train families and students to use the information constructively.

My hope is this report will give politicians, parents, administrators and prospective students a better understanding of the issues graduates are facing and that each will use the information to enact change.

Here’s your summer homework!  Download the report and share it with those to whom you report.

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Don Philabaum
Love to find ways to use technology help more grads and alumni develop successful career strategies.
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum
Don Philabaum

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