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Business leaders bemoan new grads’ work ethic

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Dive Brief:

  • Four in 10 business leaders believe recent college grads (classes of 2020-2023) are unprepared to enter the workplace, according to survey results from research firm Intelligent.com and survey platform Pollfish.
  • Almost three-quarters of the more than 1,200 C-suite execs, business owners, HR and other senior managers surveyed pointed to work ethic and communication skills as reasons why recent grads aren’t prepared for the workforce. About two-thirds blamed culture; 88% said a college course on office ethics would help.
  • “Actually, nobody is prepared for the workplace of 2023,” Diana Gayeski, Ithaca College Professor of Strategic Communications and principal of Gayeski Analytics, emphasized in an Aug. 7 press release announcing the findings. “Recent college grads don’t communicate in the way that their 50-year-old executives do, but they are effective in collaborating and getting things done using their own tools of social media, texting and applications like Slack and Google Docs,” Gayeski said. “The trick for smart organizations will be to understand the styles and values of the incoming cohort, and for leaders to ask themselves how they can create organizations that do well and do good — for their employees and their customers,” she noted.

Dive Insight:

Having spent two years on “Zoom school” instead of physically in classes, clubs and dorms, many new grads missed out on the typical college opportunities for developing people skills and confidence, Gayeski said.

These workforce newcomers are fully aware of the shortcoming. In a survey released earlier this year, a group of soon-to-be college grads said the pandemic worsened their mental health and this had a negative effect on their workforce readiness.

Corporate leaders, HR managers and hiring teams who pay attention may be at an advantage: Nearly all of the expected grads who responded to the survey said employers should offer mental and emotional health benefits. More than a third said that during their job search, they prioritize companies that offer these benefits.

Beyond providing mental health support, companies are also likely due for a revamp of their total rewards strategies, given that many benefit plans are designed primarily for baby boomers and Gen X, a joint study by EY and Limra released this month recommended.

Each generation has its unique benefit needs and preferences, the researchers explained. Total rewards programs must be modernized to meet these needs and to present solutions in a contemporary way, they said.

Another gap that needs to be addressed: Hiring managers and recent grads seem to have different expectations about pay. In the Intelligent survey, 57% of business leaders said they’ve had a recent grad ask for an unreasonably high salary. Of candidates who asked for more than $100,000, two-thirds of the positions had salaries that were $70,000 or less, the business leaders reported.

Yet, 77% of new college grads surveyed by the job platform Monster said they’re bypassing employers that have recently implemented salary freezes. They’re also very much in tune with the business market: 7 in 10 said they wouldn’t apply to work for an organization reporting lower-than-average earnings, and three-quarters said they’re not applying to companies that have recently laid off workers.

There may be one area where recent grads and business leaders share concerns: The impact of generative AI on the workplace. About half of the 1,000 people who graduated in the past year felt threatened by the emerging technology, according to one survey. Hiring managers who responded to the survey agreed that many workers will have to learn new skills to keep up.

However, even as employers figure out the effects of AI on their hiring needs, “human” cognitive skills, like problem solving, creativity, imagination and the ability to learn will remain in demand, another report notes.

Gayeski urges business leaders to have faith in the incoming generation of workers. “They’ll find no shortage of smart young professionals who can bring important new perspectives on how to efficiently accomplish goals and create environments that are conducive to growth of both employees and the bottom line,” Gayeski said.

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