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Employers Value Skills More Than Major

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May 1, 2013

Employers Value Skills More Than Major

By: Ann Ultsch, ACTE intern, and Catherine Imperatore

Two recent studies demonstrate that employers value critical thinking, problem solving, and applied knowledge and skills more than undergraduate major.

A recent survey of employers conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media's Marketplace found that while employers generally feel that colleges do a good to excellent job preparing students for work, they also find employees to be lacking in the skills needed in the workplace. Employers are now ranking college major and GPA lower on their list of priorities, placing experience and campus activities at the top of the list. Other findings include:

  • An internship is the single most valuable thing to have on your resume entering the workforce.
  • Applicants most lack skills in written and oral communication, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and decision making and problem solving.

Another recent study of employers concurs with many of these findings. In this survey of 318 employers conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges and Universities:

  • 93 percent of respondents agreed that "a candidate's demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major."
  • More than 75 percent stated that postsecondary education should place more emphasis on developing skills in critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • More than 80 percent reported that an electronic portfolio would help them ensure that job applicants have the knowledge and skills for success.  
  • Just over half believed that college graduates have the skills required to advance beyond entry-level positions.

It would appear that students are leaving postsecondary education with a lot of knowledge, but they are not always prepared to apply that knowledge in the workplace. In an article summarizing the Chronicle-Marketplace study, Julian L. Alssid said that employers want "book smarts to translate to the real world." This is where CTE students excel!

Ann Ultsch was an intern with the ACTE Public Policy Department from January-April. She is a student at Wittenberg University in Ohio studying political science and English.

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