Study: College Grads Unprepared For Workplace Human resources managers reported to researchers at York College in Pennsylvania that recent college graduates are woefully unprepared for the demands of a job in the real world. So the college is giving students some lessons in professionalism.
NPR logo

Study: College Grads Unprepared For Workplace

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Study: College Grads Unprepared For Workplace

Study: College Grads Unprepared For Workplace

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And this is the time of year when new college graduates are plunging into the job market for the first time. Human resources managers say many are unprepared for the demands of the workplace. That's what researchers at York College found. So now the Pennsylvania school is training its students in professionalism, as well as liberal arts.

Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE: A few weeks before graduation, dozens of York College undergrads, in shorts and flip-flops, pack into a campus auditorium.

Ms. LAURA WAND (Director of Marketing, Johnson Controls): Dudes(ph), dress up. This isn't the mall.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROSE: They've come to see Laura Wand. She's the director of marketing for Johnson Controls, one of York's biggest employers.

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

Ms. WAND: Multi-tasking is a myth. You got a great job. Turn off the cell phone, stop texting.

ROSE: Wand is here at the invitation of York College's Center for Professional Excellence.

Researchers asked hundreds of business leaders and human resources managers across the country to assess the professionalism of recent college graduates.

York College Professor David Polk says the results were sobering.

Professor DAVID POLK (York College of Pennsylvania): What we found was that there are a set of qualities, characteristics, that these folks would like to see in new college graduates. But unfortunately they tend to be lacking.

ROSE: Those qualities include the ability to communicate and listen respectfully, motivation to finish the task at hand, and attention to appearance.

But Polk says researchers did find one area where recent graduates stand out.

Prof. POLK: 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.

ROSE: 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.

Dr. GEORGE WALDNER (President, York College of Pennsylvania): Historically, a lot of colleges have felt, well, there's a dreary old world out there, but we're kind of like a monastery. Except the problem is, for the students, they have to get out of that monastery and go out into the world. It's not fair to the students to not really alert them to the fact that they do have to make these transitions.

ROSE: Some students seem eager for any advantage they can get.

Senior Evan Smrek attended Laura Wand's talk on professionalism.

ROSE: So youre hitting the job market?

Mr. EVAN SMREK (Student): Yes, I'll be hitting the job market in less than a month now.

ROSE: A little scared?

Mr. SMREK: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SMREK: Yes. Definitely.

ROSE: Do you think that this gave you any ideas for how to approach that better?

Mr. SMREK: Yes, actually. They mentioned some aspects of interviews, or just how to conduct yourself that I was kind of like, okay, 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.

ROSE: 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 are not in such a hurry to join the workforce.

(Soundbite of billiards room)

ROSE: I found freshmen Zachary Starner and Brandon Fogel in the basement of the student center.

Mr. ZACHARY STARNER (Student): So right now I'm just really enjoying the college experience - shooting some pool here down in (unintelligible).

Mr. BRANDON FOGEL (Student): Once I get closer to graduation, I would probably be more interested in professionalism, because then I'd be more likely to find a job.

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

For NPR News, I'm Joel Rose.

MONTAGNE: Next week on MORNING EDITION's business report, we'll hear from new college graduates across the country who are now entering the job market. They'll tell you just how tough it is.

Unidentified Woman: Coming from a small town, you go to a prestigious school, you graduate with a great degree, and then you come back and you dont have anything. It doesnt look real good.

MONTAGNE: That's from our series Setting Out, next week on MORNING EDITION's business report.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.