These Are The Skills Bosses Say New College Grads Do Not Have

The lack of these skills, especially critical thinking and analysis, can be attributed to the K-12 emphasis on testing rather than problem solving.


PayScale’s report – taken from data acquired as part of the organization’s larger employee compensation survey – shows that certain soft and hard skills tend to be missing from young graduates.

Among ‘hard skills’ – unambiguous proficiencies useful on the job – managers said new grads were most lacking in writing proficiency. In fact, 44% of managers surveyed said as much. Also, 39% of managers found their recently matriculated hires to be lacking in public speaking skills and 36% claimed they needed to bone up on their data analysis talents—that includes knowledge of programs like Excel, Tableau, Python, R, etc.

Among soft skills, managers were even more united in their opinions of where they see a dearth. According to PayScale’s survey, 60% of managers claim the new graduates they see taking jobs within their organizations do not have the critical thinking and problem solving skills they feel are necessary for the job. Additionally, 56% of managers said recent grads do not pay attention to detail and 46% said the young workers would do well to hone their communication skills. Some 44% of managers reported a lack of leadership qualities and 36% reported lower-than-needed interpersonal and teamwork skills.

That managers feel the latest additions to their organizations need to develop some further skills may not be entirely surprising. On the other side of the table, though, recent graduates seem to feel – for the most part – that they are going into their new gigs reasonably prepared.

According to PayScale’s survey, 25% of recent grads felt they were “extremely prepared” for their new jobs while only 8% of managers agreed. 62% of recent grads felt they were “mostly prepared,” while only 42% of managers concurred. When asked whether they were “well prepared,” 87% of recent grads said they were, but only 50% of managers seemed to feel that way.

The gap between the skills college grads have and what they need to succeed at their new careers is very real. Luckily the chasm can be bridged by some added instruction and earned experience.



Helicopter Parents: Learned Helplessness of a Generation

Adding to my amazement that 8% of college grads take their parents along on their first job interview comes this news that it’s now a subject of scholarly research:

“While parental involvement might be the extra boost that students need to build their own confidence and abilities, over-parenting appears to do the converse in creating a sense that one cannot accomplish things socially or in general on one’s own,” wrote the authors, two professors from California State University Fresno. The authors of “Helicopter parents: An Examination of the Correlates of Over-parenting of College Students,” Jill C. Bradley-Geist and Julie B. Olson-Buchanan, go on to detail how over-parenting can actually ruin a child’s abilities to deal with the workplace.

Vannucci also had a college-aged client whose parents did her homework for her. The client’s mother explained that she didn’t want her daughter to struggle the same way she had. The daughter, however, “has grown up to be an adult who has anxiety attacks anytime someone asks her to do something challenging” because she never learned how to handle anything on her own.

Barrow knows classmates who call after every test, or whose parents text or Facebook asking how particular questions went. “Those kids are still very reliant on their parents making decisions and doing their everyday life,” she said. “It’s a tough way to head into life if you are reliant on other people to help with decisions.”

Let’s Start Telling Young People the Whole Truth About College


Stop Feeding High-School Students the Myth That College is Right For Everyone – Businessweek

The idea that college is appropriate—essential, even—for all Americans is a myth.

 Steering every high school graduate toward college without conversations about viable alternatives constricts their future, condemns many to failure, and puts many more into unnecessary debt.

Business Week


Amen. There are many opportunities to make a good living and we do a disservice by not sharing more options with our kids. Shame on us!

Do STEM jobs require a college degree? (Is college for everyone?)


When I hear messaging (on the news, the school PA) that imply/assume that everyone should go to college I cringe. The implication of this messaging is that everyone should attend a 4 year college or university because 4 year college graduates earn more over a lifetime than those without the degree. While this may be true for some, it is also true that many are graduating carrying a lot of debt (average about $27,000) and many cannot find gainful let alone meaningful employment in their field of study.

I can’t find the precise source of the assertions but two local K-12 educational  leaders I have heard speak have cited statistics that affirm that not all jobs require a 4 year college degree.  One said only about 25-30% of all jobs require a 4 year degree. More recently I heard one administrator state that nearly half (46%) of all new STEM* jobs in our state would require high school graduation and up to an AA degree. Yet the messaging persists. Meanwhile almost 1 in 4 of our high school students do not complete high school graduation requirements. I am sure there are MANY factors that contribute to this. And among these factors I wonder to what extent the DNA principle affects the dropout rate: DNA = as in “this Does Not Apply to me because if high school is to prepare me for college as I hear all the time and I know I can’t afford/don’t plan on going to college/etc. then high school isn’t that important for me.”

Between August 1991 and May 1993 I managed the hiring process during which time we hired more than 2,000 production workers, technicians, engineers, supervisors, marketing and finance staff plus another 1,000 temporary workers to design, build and market Hewlett Packard’s consumer inkjet color printer line. More than half the total were hired for jobs requiring an AA degree or less; we even did not require a high school diploma for our assembly line jobs. The most difficult-to-fill positions were those requiring an technical AA degree or equivalent experience to support the automated manufacturing operations we were building. Over time we had to develop our own in-house technician training program in collaboration with our local community college.  I even represented HP on some local workforce development committees since we were then the largest private employers in SW WA. All the employers on these committees did not believe the local K-12 system was producing the caliber of entry level not to mention the more technically skilled workers we needed. We wanted the schools to replace the diploma with a portfolio of accomplishment. Many of us employers believed grade inflation and social passing were promoting too many unqualified and unknowing they were not qualified applicants. We wanted to help the schools produce the workers we needed. Over time several partnerships have developed but the “everyone goes to college” message continues to be promoted, now inflamed with “everyone needs to take AP courses.”  Yet, this emphasis is still not producing the skills local businesses need top grow the economy.

ASIDE: students, ask those you know if the job they are doing now is related to the college degree (whether they finished college or not is another matter) they pursued, if they went to college. 



This is an important economic fact. And where do these small and medium businesses go to recruit their workers? Many cannot afford to search too far beyond their local communities, so they seek homegrown local folk.  This was as true in 1991 as it is today. Companies hire locally and are having trouble finding the needed skills sets to enable them to compete. This is where our K-12 systems really can help out…. if they would only drop the college-for-all messaging AND not throw technology at learning as if it were a panacea for the drop out rate. But that’s another digression…. 

Yesterday I took about 20 of our pre-engineering students to a STEM Fest event hosted at a local high tech manufacturing company. As the students worked on a problem solving activity with engineers and technicians from the company I had a chat with the president and owner of the company and its HR director. They affirmed my 20 year old perception: they could not find enough local folks with the requisite skills–skills that do not require a college degree but the ability to problem solve and communicate with others. They can teach them the math and science required for their manufacturing process. Labels like “Algebra II” don’t have much meaning on the production lines. Instead, the ability to read process control documentation, manipulate data arithmetically and interpret charts and communicate the variances so the proper process controls can be implemented. This perception was further reinforced later yesterday evening when I attended a panel presentation on the state’s new STEM LIT initiative.


Yesterday’s discussions with the business owner and later the STEM LIT panel clarified for me an important issue: we tend to speak of STEM as if the needs of the economy are for only the highly skilled in science and math, HARD SKILLS (those based on facts and can be proven). Instead, what I heard and what I have experienced is that the SOFT SKILLS (those based on judgement and open to interpretation) like having a good work ethic, thinking critically, problem solving in a logical manner, oral and written communication, reading and writing are often the more highly valued. If one has the SOFT SKILLS  we can teach you the HARD SKILLS  needed in our business.

I can teach you anything but I can’t teach you to be curious

And, yikes! I also hate it when I hear educators get all excited about putting an iPad in every student’s hands! It’s kind of the same thing: if they don’t know how to use the technology to solve dynamic problems, then what have we really accomplished?


The STEM Gender Gap

The STEM Gender Gap

A Science Friday audio report containing interviews with researchers and students that underscore the crucial role played by female STEM role models for young girls and women AND reframing the perception of engineering as a helping profession.

Worth a listen (22 minutes)