AAC&U News, September 2016

Bringing Career Skills into the Classroom

Why do so many college graduates struggle to find jobs after graduating? Jodi Weiss, writing in the Huffington Post, suggests that young people are leaving college without the skills and personal characteristics required for success in both searching for jobs and in the workforce—and that professors and educators should strive to teach career skills in the classroom along with the traditional components of a classic liberal education.

According to a recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 54 percent of the graduating class of 2015 found full-time jobs by six months after graduation. Weiss, a writing professor, assigns some of the responsibility for that statistic to undergraduate educations that don’t prepare students for real life. Weiss names several attributes and specific abilities she hopes to impart to her students. “Writing resumes, cover letters, creating LinkedIn profiles, and the like, should be part of every student’s classroom learning,” she writes. These tangible skills, Weiss argues, are often left out of the classroom, leaving students to attempt to teach them to themselves after graduation. Instead, Weiss writes, these practical lessons should be an integral part of the undergraduate curriculum. Though the majority of campuses offer a career center—where one might ostensibly learn how to write a resume, receive tips for interviewing, and be introduced to the art of networking—most students go through their undergraduate years without using this resource, Weiss writes, making the classroom the logical choice for these lessons.

Weiss doesn’t discount the value of a conventional liberal education. “Yes, I believe everyone should read Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales,” she writes. More importantly, though, Weiss sees the job of educators as teaching students “to be lifelong learners. To help them to fall in love with learning, so that if for some odd chance they don’t get to study Chaucer in high school or college, they can choose to enjoy the author’s work later in their lives, when they are secure in careers that challenge and empower them.” She also describes herself as “a realist” who values “real-world learning”; she incorporates blogging, interviewing, and using social media into her teaching. (According to AAC&U’s 2015 survey of employers and college students these sorts of real-world skills are important to employers: 80 percent of employers say that it is important to them during the hiring process for recent college graduates to demonstrate the ability to apply learning in real-world settings, but only 23 percent of employers say that recent college graduates are well prepared to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings.)

There are other qualities Weiss also believes should be instilled in undergraduate students but often are not—these include “perseverance and commitment,” traits she considers essential to success in the workplace but sometimes overlooked in higher education. “From my experience, all too often students struggling in a course are told by professors to ‘drop the course.’ Sure, it’s a simple solution and an easy way to bypass a failing grade, but does it teach the grit or drive students will need later in life?”

Ultimately, Weiss argues that certain skills students should be honing during college are the very same skills they’ll need in the workforce—and that professors and instructors should be encouraging these while also teaching traditional classroom material: “Let’s find a way to make the years students spend in classrooms count, and help them to learn skills—persistence, self-direction, risk-taking, tolerance of ambiguity—that will inspire them to be lifelong learners pursuing successful careers.”   

AAC&U’s employer surveys explore employers’ views of the skills and experiences students should gain in college and the alignment between what employers are seeking in college graduates and liberal education outcomes. Those survey reports are available on AAC&U’s website

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AAC&U News is written and edited by Ben Dedman. If you have questions or comments about the newsletter's contents, please e-mail dedman@aacu.org.


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