A Question of Confidence: Do Students Feel Prepared for the Workforce

According to a recent Strada-Gallup report, 86% of college students view getting a better job as a critical factor in their decision to pursue a degree—however polling from a number of sources show that they (and prospective employers) are less confident than ever that these graduates will succeed in the workforce. Why is this disconnect becoming more pronounced, and are there things we can do to solve it?

The Stada-Gallup report goes on to look at certain campus resources, like the career center, which are traditionally underused by the students who need them most. However there are more direct factors we can look at to see why students don’t feel as confident in their preparation for work as previous generations.

The US workforce has shifted dramatically in the past 30 years. This report from Thirdway shows how “routine” (rule-based or algorithmic) jobs cratered after each recession; following the last three downturns, those routine jobs never came back as they had in prior eras. Instead, we now see the labor market migrating into the knowledge economy, a landscape that requires a new skill set beyond the traditional discipline-specific college degree.

US employers now prioritize critical thinking, complex problem-solving, and communication (often termed foundational skills)—however these skills are in short supply. The fact that they are rarely consistently taught across campus is likely a prime driver of the confidence gap. Until higher education commits to ensuring that all students receive broad, outcomes-based foundational skills instruction, graduates will continue to look at their prospective careers with the trepidation that comes when you know you don’t have what hiring managers are looking for.

And if that doubt is allowed to fester for too long, it may well shift toward questions about whether a college degree can really promise career success after all.