Employers Say College Grads Aren’t Prepared for Work. Here’s Why.

Many college grads are getting ready to don their caps, gowns, and rose-colored glasses as they embark on a new adventure. Even though school is coming to an end, there’s still a lot to learn.

According to a Gallup Poll, a whopping 92% of educators (i.e., Chief Academic Officers) believe college grads are prepared for the workforce. But only 11% of employers believe college grads are prepared.

That’s a major discrepancy between educators and employers.

The missing link? Soft skills – things like adaptability, empathy, and more.

That same poll found that 44% of employers believe soft skills make up the greatest skills gap. And 72% say soft skills are just as important as technical skills.

44% of employers believe soft skills make up the greatest skills gap

The last couple of years have only intensified the issue. In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 58% of respondents said closing skills gaps in their companies’ workforces has become a higher priority since 2020.

While technical skills may get job candidates an interview, soft skills can make or break their chance of landing (and keeping) that job. These competencies include things like creativity, critical thinking, dependability, and good communication skills. Fortunately, these skills can be taught.

Colleges and Universities Can Lead the Way for Soft Skills Development

According to Psychology Today, “Soft skills are often seen as a byproduct of our career growth but are becoming central to being productive at work . . . these skills can be the difference between impact and no impact in a job.”

It’s true. The technical ability to do a job is one thing. The interpersonal ability to do a job well is another thing entirely. Picture a talented web developer who produces some of the most impressive websites you’ve ever seen. But they take weeks to answer emails and rarely incorporate client edits. For most organizations, those costly delays wouldn’t be worth the developer’s technical skills.

This presents a really great opportunity for colleges and universities to incorporate more soft skill development into the curriculum. Perhaps it’s not just what is taught, but how it’s taught. In his article for Forbes, Bernard Marr writes:

“In classrooms and lecture halls around the world, students still mostly sit facing the front, listening to the teacher deliver content that they’re expected to memorize. This isn’t to criticize teachers and lecturers, far from it . . . But in order to teach the skills that are necessary to thrive in the 21st century, and create the leaders that our world needs, the way in which education is delivered must adapt. In particular, I believe the teachers of the future will become facilitators rather than content deliverers.”

In many ways, the arrival of more virtual learning could translate well to organizations where remote or hybrid work is the new norm. This aligns with Marr’s theory that education will transition to more digital content, problem-based learning, and collaborative experiences where social awareness and emotional intelligence are needed.


How Educators Can Help Students Develop Soft Skills

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) recommends that educators and career services professionals take a more active role in helping students develop soft skills and advise them to list these competencies prominently on their resumes.

Here are some of the NACE recommendations for both educators and employers:

For Higher Education Professionals:

  • Create competency steering committees
  • Offer academic and teaching innovation centers
  • Coordinate competency development with student activities and leadership experiences
  • Incorporate competency development into work-study programs
  • Develop badging initiatives to map progress and accomplishments
  • Offer internship courses (credit/noncredit)
  • Provide capstone courses that address soft skills specifically
  • Develop assessment plans to measure the impact on outcomes and institutional effectiveness


For Employers:

  • Infuse soft skill assessments into interviews
  • Map these competencies to career pathing
  • Integrate competencies into internship and co-op programs
  • Embed soft skills into job descriptions
  • Write competencies into goals and performance reviews


Some soft skills development won’t happen until people experience real life, on-the-job interactions. But the foundation must be set long before that. Colleges and universities are in a unique position to lead cultural and professional transformations where soft skills are met with the same enthusiasm as technical skills. In the next post, we’ll cover the top ten soft skills college grads will need as they enter the modern workforce.


Employers Say College Grads Aren’t Prepared for Work. Here’s Why.

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