MULVIHILL: Students need to take the initiative to be employable

Universities offer resources for students to build skills that are valuable to employers, it’s up to students to take advantage of them

Last week, fellow Opinion columnist Alex Mink argued that colleges are leaving students ill prepared for their entry into the workforce. Mink claimed that, while students feel confident in their skills when entering the workforce, employers see serious deficiencies in students skills in, “organization, leadership and personal finance, as well as street smarts.” Mink’s argument places full responsibility for students deficiencies on the colleges and universities in which they are educated. However, I would argue the responsibility falls to students to take the initiative in developing skills needed to present themselves as competitive applicants following graduation. Furthermore, the University provides key resources to students to prepare them for the job market — it is simply up to students to take advantage of them.

Mink argues that since college students pay tuition, universities are obligated to adequately prepare them for the workforce. In reality, students must put in their own work to build a status as a competitive applicant. The many skills in which employers find students lacking could be improved with a number of self-motivated activities. For example, 65 percent of students feel that recent college graduates are well-prepared in terms of written communication, whereas surveyed employers believe that only 27 percent of recent college graduates display adequate written communication skills. In the case of areas like written communication skills, involvement in extracurricular activities related to writing and editing is a key way to improve in these areas. At many colleges and universities, students have the opportunity to join media organizations where they can improve their writing skills. Mink also ignores the fact that many colleges and universities offer students opportunities to improve on the skills which employers value, but students themselves must take the initiative and make use of these resources. The University's Career Center offers mock interviews, which could be used by students to improve their professional communication skills.

Furthermore, Mink states, it’s also “important that universities be aware of the demands of employers so as to prepare their students for the real world.” Mink includes nothing, however, about students preparing themselves for future working environments by adhering to employer demands. In a world where competition for post-collegiate employment increases daily, getting a job is all about being personally aware of the skills that employers value and bettering yourself accordingly. To be a competitive applicant, students must make themselves aware of the qualifications required for employment, so that they may polish their skills in college. Many employers publish the skills that they value on their job applications, so a quick online search can give students significant resources. A typical job application includes requirements which an employer deems vital for a new graduate’s success on the job. On Northrop Grumman’s application for a new graduate position as a strategic planner, the company gave clear guidelines as to which skills would be highest valued for applicants. In the case of the specified position, the company values effective communication skills and experience with analyzing business situations. At the University, students could improve their competence in these areas by joining a student publication or one of the many student groups focused on business and preparing oneself for a career in that field.

All in all, Mink’s argument places too much blame on higher education institutions for their students’ lack of preparedness. In an increasingly competitive job market, students must look for every opportunity to prepare for graduation and they cannot solely expect their education to carry them to a six figure salary. A certain amount of realism must be applied to the job application process in which students should make themselves aware of the specific skills that their prospective employers value. From that point, students should join organizations and seek resources that can help them prepare on their own. Although it is a university’s purpose to educate its students and prepare them for the real world, students must take it upon themselves to go the distance and become valuable assets to their future employers.

Carly Mulvihill is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at c.mulvihill@cavalierdaily.com.

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