Study: College Grads Unprepared For Workplace

It's the time of year when college graduates plunge into the job market for the first time. But according to a study by researchers at York College in Pennsylvania, many of those grads seem to be ill prepared for the demands of the workplace.

That's why York is trying to train students in professionalism in addition to liberal arts. A few weeks before graduation, dozens of undergrads — in shorts and flip-flops — packed a campus auditorium to see Laura Wand, the director of marketing for Johnson Controls, one of the area's biggest employers.

"Dude, dress up. This isn't the mall," she tells the crowd.

With her PowerPoint slides, Wand tries to impart some helpful advice from the real world.

"Multitasking is a myth," she says. "You got a great job. Turn off the cell phone. Stop texting."

Wand was visiting at the invitation of York College's Center for Professional Excellence. Researchers had asked hundreds of business leaders and human resources managers across the country to assess the professionalism of recent college graduates, and the results were sobering.

"What we found was that there are a set of qualities, characteristics that these people would like to see in new college graduates," says David Polk, a York College professor. "Unfortunately, they tend to be lacking."

Those qualities include the ability to communicate and listen respectfully, motivation to finish a task and attention to appearance. But Polk says researchers pointed to one area where recent graduates stand out: "There's a sense of entitlement that we've picked up on, where people think they're entitled to become, let's say, president of the company within the next two years; they're entitled to five weeks of vacation."

So Polk is helping to develop a curriculum to teach professionalism.

York College President George Waldner says his isn't the only liberal arts school that's trying to do a better job of preparing students for the workplace.

"Historically, a lot of colleges have felt there's a dreary old world out there," Waldner says. "But we're like a monastery, except the problem is, for students, they have to get out of that monastery and go out into the world."

Waldner says, "It's not fair to the students to not really alert them to the fact that they do have to make these transitions."

Some students seem eager for any advantage they can get.

"I will be hitting the job market in less than a month now," says senior Evan Smrek, who attended Wand's talk on professionalism. He says he has a better idea now of how the process works.

"They mentioned some aspects of interviews, or just how to conduct yourself. I was kind of like, 'OK, I wish I had known that a month ago, when I had my interview.' But it's definitely something to take away for following interviews."

One helpful hint: When you sit down for that first interview, do not ask how many weeks of vacation the position offers.

But other students aren't in such a hurry to join the workforce.

"Right now, I'm just really enjoying the college experience," says Zachary Starner, who was playing pool in the basement of the student center with fellow freshman Brandon Fogel.

"Once I get closer to graduation," Fogel says, "I would probably be more interested in professionalism, because then I'd be more likely to find a job."

For now, they have more pressing things to worry about — like, who's stripes and who's solids.