Workforce.com

'We Are Ready': Millennials Respond to Complaints They're Not Prepared for the Workforce

Employers are unsatisfied with the millennial talent pool, but some recent graduates disagree. It's even possible employers are in part to blame for their disappointment, according to one consultant.

May 15, 2013
It doesn't matter what hiring surveys say about recent graduates being unprepared to join the workforce; Kevin Niemi isn't listening.

Niemi, 22, a recent graduate from Purdue University's nuclear engineering program, disagrees with the opinion that his generation lacks workforce readiness. While he does admit he can "definitely see where some hiring managers are coming from," he feels fully prepared for the workplace.

According to a survey published April 30 by Adecco, a global human resources consulting company, 66 percent of hiring managers said they don't think recent college graduates are prepared for the workplace. And 58 percent of hiring managers said they're not planning to hire entry-level college graduates this year.

Niemi says his classes at Purdue as well as other professional experiences at engineering firms between semesters have prepared him for the job he's taking this summer as a nuclear fuel engineer with Exelon Corp.

Additionally, a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reinforces the dim job-prospect expectations for younger millennials.

According to NACE's survey, employers plan to hire only 2.1 percent more college graduates from the class of 2013 than they did from the class of 2012. The report says this number is down 10.9 percent from estimates determined by a similar survey NACE conducted last fall.

"The new projection is consistent with recent job reports that show job growth is less than anticipated," said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director, in a written statement.

Another recent Big Ten graduate, Jack Maples, says his experience working for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's media department while pursuing a bachelor's degree in English prepared him for the workplace.

Despite having received job offers from small media companies in central Illinois, Maples, 22, is holding out for a job in Chicago. He attributes his lack of networking connections and stiff competition in the Chicago area to his current inability to find employment, not ill-preparedness.

"If a company has an open position, and somebody at that company knows a guy who can do the job as well as anybody else applying for it, why would they waste their time going through a bunch of applications?" Maples says.

One explanation for why many millennials are having such a hard time finding their first post-college job is that the Great Recession created a shift in the way businesses hire, says David Gartside, managing director of talent and organization practices for Accenture, a global management consulting firm.

"Companies have begun to say to themselves, 'I don't need to build skills; I can just hire skills,' " Gartside says. While this hiring practice can lead to high productivity in the short term, Gartside says hiring for specific skills allows a company to potentially miss out on hiring an individual who fits the culture well but needs some training to develop the specific job duties.

This trend in hiring for skills rather than developing young workers is one possible reason why so many recent college graduates are not only unemployed but underemployed, as well. For instance, a recent Accenture survey found 41 percent of workers who graduated from college in the past two years say they are underemployed and working in a job that doesn't require a college degree.

To prevent this trend from becoming a chronic problem, Gartside says students should pick majors that can help them find employment more easily when they finish school, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics—or STEM majors. He also thinks employers should be doing more to correct this problem. Gartside says businesses could collaborate with universities to steer more students toward pursuing careers in STEM fields.

"There's a big mismatch in the market between companies having a need and that need being unsatisfied, but being unwilling to do anything about it," Gartside says.

Max Mihelich is Workforce's associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.