Companies say college grads are lacking in motivation, interpersonal skills, appearance, punctuality and flexibility according to an article by Martha White in TIME. The annual global Talent Shortage Survey from ManpowerGroup finds that nearly one in five employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they can’t find people with basic office skills, or "soft skills."
What Martha White gets wrong about millennial college grads is that they actually have very strong soft skills, oftentimes without realizing it, but they are victims of a larger problem in the form of a lousy economy. Millennials have the ability to succeed in the workforce because their degrees teach them how to apply critical thinking skills to all sorts of situations.
The clearest example of a skill in which college grads excel is networking. Cultivating productive relationships is something students informally learn in college when we build communities — extracurriculars like intramural sports and cultural shows encourage students to function cooperatively. College students are taught to network informally all the time, not just while on the hunt for a job. When a student strikes up a conversation with a professor, when college kids play Apples to Apples during study breaks in dorm rooms, and when students attend parties Saturday nights they are developing invaluable social skills. And these are all people students can tap into down the road, during job searches or quests for mentorship. And technology is making it is easier easier than ever to network using Facebook and LinkedIn to meet friends of friends.
Also, college grads must — and DO — muster up the courage to present themselves well in interviews with neat haircuts, manicures, and smart blazers with the expectation of getting hired. They must also learn to speak well in mock interviews.
College students also learn to connect abstract ideas in their undergraduate courses. When I was a Wellesley undergrad, my final paper for my political theory class was based on finding similarities and contrasts between Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine. Yes, they were both Catholic, but that observation merely scratched the surface. To find the deeper and more meaningful connections between these two thinkers, I had to perform a close analysis of their texts. Writers papers like this one helped me develop critical thinking skills that are incredibly useful, both in interviews and on the job.
“A liberal arts degree provides an inherent advantage in written and oral communication, interpersonal skills, problem solving, critical and analytical thinking, and adaptability to change,” says J.P. Hansen, a career expert and author of The Bliss List: The Ultimate Guide to Living the Dream at Work and Beyond. “The ability to comprehend, communicate, and conquer problems is the name of the game and is implied with a liberal arts degree,” he writes.
Why employers think millennials don’t communicate well is beyond me. Millennials learn to communicate well throughout their educations and while on the hunt for a job. Martha White’s article ignores the effort that recent grads put into cultivating their soft skills: millennials know how to work in teams, how to write, and how to present themselves favorably, in interviews and in the workplace. Communicating and problem-solving are skills in which college grads find strength and power. When the economy is more favorable, they will also find jobs.