Stop Blaming Career Services: #HigherEd Responsible for Unemployable Grads

Higher Education and Unemployable GraduatesWant to join the angry mobs blaming Career Services for our unemployable graduates? Think they are the only ones at fault for those that will exit the stage in May with a diploma, but without a clue?

You just may have it wrong; you may be waving that judgmental finger in the wrong direction.

Yes, there are those career services professionals who still teach resume “best practices” from 1974. Yes, there are certainly some who are guilty of not embracing the 21st Century job search model yet. And, yes, there are apparently some who refuse to change – despite all the evidence that shows the process they use now is wholly ineffective.

But to get to the real problem – to understand why we are dumping highly educated yet nowhere-near-ready-for-prime-time graduates into the workforce… we have to think bigger; we have to look higher.

Specifically, we have to look at the leaders of higher education.

Why? Instead of adapting to and leveraging new market conditions, the leaders within our higher education system keep doing what they’ve always done… focus on education without practical application. They remain comfortable with their arrogance while failing to realize change is imminent. They are dinosaurs, doomed for extinction.

And all this at a time when their customers – their students – need them most.

To help understand the big picture – and for proof that the leaders of higher education fail to make career development a high enough priority – take a look at what career centers face, and how they are judged, from a simple business perspective: the family diner…

The cupboards are bare. Grocery stores are all closed. You are the only restaurant in town; there are no other options for food. Everyone is hungry; they need your product – your help – more than ever. And yet only 1% to 5% of those potential customers, even though they are starving, ever walk through your doors. Either they don’t know you exist, or perhaps they do – and the reputation you’ve earned makes them think they’re still better going it alone. They’ll find something to eat, somehow.

How could that diner stay in business? They can’t, of course. They will fail.

And yet higher education doesn’t see career development, or the starving students, as their problem. Career services is, at most institutions, a student-driven process – and 100% optional.

In a discussion on LinkedIn started by Steven Levy, a career services professional summed up the problem with this passive approach best:

“[Most] Students don’t do optional.”

Decades of experience teaches us that the majority of students (until April when the soon-to-be graduating student suddenly realizes career is only optional if they have their parents’ basement to move into) “career” IS optional.

To that, I’ll add: “[Most] Faculty members don’t do optional.”

They don’t teach outside the theory they dutifully dispense, nor do they include practical application and today’s workplace realities, because a real-world perspective is optional. Instead of passing along life-changing knowledge, they continue to teach how to test well and get good grades (which most employers don’t care about)… because “ah-ha” moments are optional. They don’t mentor or deliberately strive to make a difference… because the mentor mindset IS optional.

Why? Because their bosses don’t expect anything more from them. Teach how to test well; achieve a high GPA; make the school’s academic record look good. That is all that is expected of our would-be mentors and difference-makers.

Or, as one Director of Student Services told me: “What they do with their education is up to them.” This despite knowing that the reason most students go to college is to secure a better job, generate more earning potential, and thus create a better life.

Translation: in traditional higher education, career development IS optional.

The trouble (as some career services professionals and schools have already figured out) is that in our new economy; the Social Age where every consumer is hyper-connected and competition in the job market has never been more extreme:

“Optional” is not an acceptable option.

The Law of Change according to Ted Coiné:

“Real change only happens as the result of insurmountable market pressure.”

In a world gone social, where every organization is under constant scrutiny and held accountable in the court of public opinion, higher education must move past the excuses and circumvent the protectionists in order to change. They must make career services a higher priority. Or that insurmountable market pressure – in the form a herd of angry, loud customers (parents, students and employers) – is going to storm the hallowed gates of the current system; they will demand reform. In the process, they’ll dethrone current leadership.

Replacing those dinosaurs, contemporary leaders – driven by the needs of their customers – will realize that career services must be appropriately funded; that outside experts must be brought in to inspire the students; that faculty must accept their role as mentors. And, finally, that career development courses and internships (or relevant experience in some form) must be required to earn a college degree. And at some point, the new leaders will enable the students to embrace accountability; to understand they are  the one person ultimately responsible for their career.

Or real change won’t come.

This won’t happen tomorrow. With the higher education protectionists (“that’s the way it has always been done!”) in place, it could take decades. But the sooner we get moving, the sooner we turn the model on its head – and the sooner we start sending employable graduates (and happy customers of higher education) into the workplace.

In the meantime, consider that career services professionals alone are not responsible for the lack of employable graduates… look instead to the archaic, arrogant system in which they work.






Mark Babbitt AuthorAbout the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, Switch and Shift, and Under30CEO.

Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors,” HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and CareerBliss’ “Top 10 Gen Y Career Experts.” Mark is currently working on two new books: “A World Gone Social: How Business Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM, June 2014) with Ted Coine and “The Ultimate Guide to Internships (And Making Your College Years Matter Again)” (Allworth, September 2014). Contact Mark on Twitter!



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