Career Sabotage: Is Education Helping Or Hurting Our Millennials?

I deal with a variety of growth-oriented organizations, from small mom-and-pop shops to international corporations. But despite their differences, they all seem to agree on one thing: they’re hesitant to accept an entry-level candidate right out of college into their mighty ranks. Each time I approach the subject, the hiring manager dismisses the idea, saying, “Find me someone with at least two years of experience.” So how can our young people gain work experience if no one is willing to train them?



In my opinion, this is a huge problem, one that I’ve become passionate about solving. I’ve even started a program – my team calls it Adopt A Grad. Here’s how it works: we reformatted our standard recruiting contract by asking companies to make a small donation to our non-profit, Be Your Own Hero, rather than pay the full freight. In exchange, they’d agree to take on a workforce newbie. But taking a serious cut in fees wasn’t enough to persuade employers to give it a go. So our career and human capital coaches decided to sweeten the deal by creating an extensive professional development course that bridges the gap between college life and work world expectations. With small businesses dominating America’s economy, most employers don’t have formal training programs in place, relying on other forces (in this case, my team) to get candidates “workforce ready.” This added bonus seemed to finally get their attention.

While my campaign to find talented young people and get them into real career jobs has proved to be a success, the question still remains: What are those “missing ingredients” that are holding employers back from embracing our millennial generation? Here are just a few of the most common complaints I receive each day:

They have no hands-on experience. Of the entry-level mechanical engineers enrolled in our Adopt A Grad program, none of them had taken it upon themselves to get their hands dirty and actually fix something. No one had ever worked on a car or taken apart a lawn mower – anything that showed a natural desire for understanding how things worked. Moreover, the majority of colleges and universities require no internships, volunteer work, or co-ops to help students realize their strengths and weaknesses in the work world, as well as solidify their chosen specialty.

They don’t know themselves well. Most young people don’t understand what their natural behaviors and motivators are, let alone how they relate to the work world. They haven’t taken advantage of career assessments or similar scientific tools employers use on their candidates all the time. As a result, they can’t articulate what specialty or type of work environment fits their unique personality. More importantly, they haven’t taken the time to write down what their career goals are and how they align with their education, internships, and/or volunteer work.

Educational systems have failed them. While earning a college degree is considered essential to that landing that first job, many schools haven’t updated their curriculums to keep up with job market demands. With outdated, general majors, such as history, theology, and philosophy, which have little to do with real careers today, students have no idea how to connect the dots after graduation. And with theory-based lectures, not enough professors have placed an emphasis on gaining hard skills that employers want to see on a candidate’s resume. IT and engineering, for example, are specialties that are suffering greatly from the talent shortage.

There’s a lack of focus on team-building skills. There’s not enough collaboration through group projects and communication techniques practiced among peers at school. Most work cultures thrive on each staff member’s ability to support each other and tackle issues like a lean, well-oiled machine.

The world of education has weakened critical thinking skills. Because students have only known a highly structured world where every move has been determined for them, either by mom and dad or by curriculum requirements, they don’t have a whole lot of experience figuring things out for themselves. In the work world, professionals must take risks, show initiative, and solve problems on their own in order to survive. Without those critical thinking skills, many young grads feel stuck when they find themselves in a foreign situation and wait for someone else to tell them what they should do next.

Their soft skills leave something to be desired. Young workers are undoubtedly passionate souls, but they are also easily beaten down by the harsh realities of the work world. Many have failed to realize that business is business, meaning, your boss won’t treat you like his own child and co-workers won’t behave like family. There aren’t always second chances, so entry-levels need to toughen up and learn how a business runs from all angels.

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