Evolving Entry-Level Job Market Leaves Most Colleges Behind

A recent article published in the Washington Post’s online edition highlighted current problems in helping college students smoothly transition from school to the workplace. More than 80 percent of students in the United States leave their four-year educational institutions without being able to transition immediately into a job. In large part, this is because the market for entry-level positions has shifted, without a corresponding adaptation on the part of educational institutions.

A recent study publicized by respected consulting firm McKinsey & Company lends additional context and support to these assertions. The study found that, while an overwhelming majority of college officials believe that their programs have prepared graduates to obtain and succeed in well-paying entry-level jobs, most employers—and the students themselves—hold a different view. In fact, less than half of recent college graduates believe that their degrees have prepared them for the job market, and the same percentage of prospective employers agree.

Colleges mistakenly assume that their responsibility ends with having offered students basic job-search training and career counseling. However, students tend not to use college-based career services effectively, and small-to-medium-sized companies find that establishing a presence on campus is too expensive. New graduates also often lack a meaningful understanding of how their skills fit with a potential employer’s requirements.

Colleges can ensure their practices are in sync with the demands of today’s job market by providing career counseling and job-search assistance throughout a student’s educational journey, beginning at a student’s enrollment. They can also help by making it easier for employers to maintain a presence on campus, and by conducting more comprehensive outreach to smaller and medium-sized companies. In addition, because students who have completed successful internships are more likely to find employment after graduation, schools should improve the quality and quantity of available internship opportunities.

The problem of transitioning students from college to career is not unique to America, and one university program, several continents away, is demonstrating how this challenge can be successfully met. In Rwanda, the two-year-old Kepler program has already served as a pioneer in easing the transition from education to employment. Kepler, a project of the nonprofit scholarship-funding group Generation Rwanda, offers competency-based, internationally accredited undergraduate business degrees for only about $1,000 per year. The initiative has already leveled the playing field for hundreds of deserving but under-resourced young adults.

A large part of Kepler’s innovative approach is its intense focus on education-to-employment preparation. Strong partnerships with prestigious employers mean that Kepler students gain job skills through meaningful internships and work-study experiences. More than 4 out of 5 Kepler students land internships after their first year in the program, and 2 out of 3 receive paying internships. Given their extraordinary success thus far, Kepler has set a realistic goal of having all of their students receive internships in the near future.

In addition, the Kepler curriculum stresses the mastery of core skills that prove critical to real world job situations, including an emphasis on problem-solving and the ability to teach oneself to learn from and adapt to changing real world conditions. Kepler students also receive significant levels of career counseling, coaching, and training while enrolled. Added up, it’s not surprising that
employers have been so enthusiastic about how strong and well prepared Kepler students are.

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