New Grad Employability Exam

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10,000 hours of college experience will be summed up in a 90 minute exam

CAE logoFor decades employers have complained that graduates were not prepared for the transition from college to cubicle.  Managers have moaned endlessly about how grads lacked the soft skills they need to become productive employees.  This sentiment has been repeated in surveys, articles, blogs and meetings.

So who is responsible for preparing students for their first professional job?

  • Employers think it’s the responsibility of colleges.
  • Colleges think it’s the employer’s responsibility.
  • Students think it’s the employer’s responsibility.

No wonder we are at a stalemate and nothing is being done to solve this!

However, it’s clear in these tight economic times that colleges can no longer ignore this situation.  Because of this stalemate:

  • Less grads will get hired.
  • It will cost companies time and money to retrain grads to become productive employees.

It will affect your college enrollment too!  Parents and prospective students will be looking for colleges that have high placement rates after college.  If your placement rate is suffering, your enrollment revenue will drop.

So how are we going to solve this issue?

Let’s look first at why colleges are not accepting this responsibility.

I don’t have to remind you that your college curriculum is controlled by faculty.  The curriculum and courses have been designed over the last two decades to ensure students have the knowledge required to be awarded their degree.

Your faculty are interested in their students mastering the data, skills and information relevant to their major, but not necessarily the skills they will need to succeed in their college to corporate transitions.

Faculty have little to no concern about what employers want or need.  As a result, the curriculum focuses on what it takes to earn a degree in Asian art history, Ceramics, Journalism, French/German/Chinese, Music history, Bio chemistry, Hydrology, Nutrition or any of the hundreds of others available.

Why do students expect businesses to train them?

I was surprised to learn that students expect employers to train them.

Students graduate after investing up to 10,000 hours in study, class room activity, research, preparing reports, meeting in groups and extracurricular activity.

A poll by Accenture found that 77 percent of seniors expect their employer will provide training. Students believe they’ve done their part in investing the time and money to qualify for a degree.

However, the Accenture poll showed less than half, or 48%, of recent grads say they got training in their first year on the job.

Studies show it takes the average student nearly 8 months to get a job. Assuming your grads earn an average of $3,000 per month, they are losing $24,000 by not having the right skills employers are looking for.

Why don’t employers think this is their responsibility?

A survey by Hart Research Associates found that 75% of employers polled wanted colleges to place more emphasis on critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication and applied knowledge in real-world settings.

It also found that 93% of employers agreed that a candidate’s ability to demonstrate the capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems was more important than his or her undergraduate major.

Over the past three decades, employers have repeatedly made their position clear to college administrators. Hiring managers generally do not care about the knowledge students have absorbed while in college as most of it is irrelevant to what they want them to do.   Business leaders expect students to have the skills they need to hit the ground running and NOT have to retrain them.

But alas, few colleges agree.  

Well, at least not for the moment!

You see a new test is being introduced that will give employers a way to select students, NOT by grade point, major and academic record, but by their ability to step into the firm and immediately provide a return on investment by solving production, operations, and/or revenue problems.

Grad Employability Exam

Employers have been looking for faster, better, cheaper, more efficient ways to hire your grads.  The hiring process costs money and the HR department of employers, like yours are being forced to do a better job at hiring grads at less cost.

That means not only hiring the best talent that will immediately become an asset, but also talent that stays with the company.

A survey by found that 70 percent of recent grads left their jobs within two years.  Anything employers can do to increase the time new hires spend at the company will decrease the hiring cost and provide more experienced staff.

Hiring authorities have suggested there was no way to evaluate what students learned and/or if they were able to transfer that knowledge to be a productive worker.  Without a formal test or way to evaluate their knowledge, companies end up hiring the wrong people that cost them a lot of time, and money to retrain.

What they have been looking for is a standardized test that will provide insight into how well a grad will fit in the company culture and measure their abilities.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus is that test!

The Collegiate Learning Assessment Plus (CLA+) is being offered to graduating seniors at over 200 colleges in the Spring of 2014.  Colleges as small as Ursuline College, Stonehill College to select colleges in the California and Texas state university systems are among the first to adopt the tests.

The test, developed by the Council for Aid to Education, a New York based nonprofit will cost grads $35 to take.  Although the firm has contracts with colleges, the test is available to any grad, at any time, online.

The test will measure problem solving, writing, quantitative reasoning and reading and provide a number similar to SAT’s that employers can use to rate and compare potential hires. Employers will very likely pay more attention to grads who test out with a perfect score of 1600 and will quickly overlook those below 1000. Grads will have only 90 minutes to complete the exam.

The test grew out of a similar exam that the Council for Aid to Education developed for college administrators to test students’ knowledge at the start of their freshman year and then again at graduation.  It helped colleges evaluate the effectiveness of their curriculum and gave them an opportunity to work with their faculty to make adjustments in order to improve students’ scores.

This could be a paradigm shift:

  • Grads with low GPA’s could potentially do better and get hired
  • Grads who do all the right things in taking ownership of their career might do poorly and get overlooked

These tests could have a significant impact on your graduates.

Companies and organizations may require students to take them and use the scores as a way of weeding out grads.  If employers start requiring your students to take these courses, you’ll have to adopt strategies to not only inform them about the test but also provide coaching on what to expect on the test and what they can do.

It’s too early to determine how students will do!

So it’s time to build a strategy and begin to prepare your students and grads for an exit exam that could significantly affect their employability.

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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

One thought on “New Grad Employability Exam

  1. Very intriguing! However, do not charge students to take the test!! $35 is too much, and besides, if industry is so demanding of our students to Be Prepared, they should subsidize the cost of the exam. Industry used to train new college grads; where has that ethic gone? I’d be happy to offer this to our students, but not if they have to pay for it . . . and, by the way, not if you expect the college to pay for it!

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