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  • New College Graduates and Employers Agree on Key Competencies, but at Odds About New Grad Proficiency

    BETHLEHEM, PA—New graduates seeking jobs and their potential employers agree on which skills are most important for entering into a new job, but diverge on how proficient new graduates are in those abilities, according to a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

    Graduating seniors taking part in NACE’s 2022 Student Survey cited communication, critical thinking, and teamwork as the three most important competencies for a job candidate to be considered “career ready.” In a separate study, employers put the same three career readiness competencies at the top of their list. (See Figure 1.)

    “The good news is that both new graduates and employers recognize the importance of those skills, and both agree that new grads work well in teams,” says Shawn VanDerziel, NACE executive director. “Unfortunately, they don’t agree about how proficient new graduates are in terms of communication or critical thinking. In fact, there is a lot of disagreement between them about what new graduates are best at and how proficient new grads actually are.” (See Figure 2.)

    Asked to rate their level of proficiency in NACE’s eight career readiness competencies—competencies that broadly prepare college students for success in the workplace—new graduates gave themselves the highest marks in teamwork, professionalism, and communication and consider themselves very or extremely proficient in all three. Conversely, employers rated new graduates highest in their ability to work with technology, their understanding and appreciation of equity and inclusion, and their teamwork skills.

    “When asked to rate new graduate proficiency, employers deemed new graduates as very proficient only in the technology competency,” says VanDerziel. “While they didn’t give new graduates poor marks in the other competencies—their ratings fell in the ‘somewhat to very’ proficient range—it is clear that there is a disconnect between what students think they have to offer and what employers see.”  

    According to VanDerziel, “one of the reasons we see this disconnect is that many students don’t understand how their college experiences relate to the competencies. As a result, they aren’t very good at demonstrating that connection to employers on their resumes or in interviews.”

    To counter that, career centers on many campuses are working to help students understand how their classroom work, internships, part-time jobs, and other experiences help them build and strengthen their career readiness competencies, according to VanDerziel. NACE provides career centers with resources to do that, including sample behaviors related to the competencies.

    “We’re also seeing that more colleges and universities are taking steps to integrate career readiness into their curriculum and across services. Career readiness isn’t something that is developed ‘over there’—it’s part of the college experience and everyone, from faculty to residence life staff to career services professionals—can play a role,” he says.

    Figure 1: Top 3 career readiness competencies (importance)

    New Graduates Employers
    Communication Critical Thinking
    Critical Thinking Communication
    Teamwork Teamwork
    Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. Data are from NACE’s 2022 Student Survey and Job Outlook 2022 Survey.

    Figure 2: New graduates and career readiness competencies: Proficiency ranking

    Competency Employer ranking New graduate ranking
    Technology 1 6
    Equity & Inclusion 2 5
    Teamwork 3 1
    Critical Thinking 4 3
    Communication 5 4
    Professionalism 6 2
    Career & Self-development 7 8
    Leadership 8 7
    Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. Data are from NACE’s 2022 Student Survey and Job Outlook 2022 Survey. Highlights indicate where there is the greatest divergence of opinion.

    About NACE: Established in 1956, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is the only professional association in the United States that connects more than 9,800 college career services professionals, more than 3,300 university relations and recruiting professionals, and more than 300 business solution providers that serve this community.

    NACE is the premier source of market research on career readiness and employment of recent college graduates. NACE forecasts hiring and trends in the job market; tracks salaries, recruiting and hiring practices, and student attitudes and outcomes; and identifies best practices and benchmarks.

    NACE offers its members unparalleled research, networking and professional development opportunities, guidance on standards and ethics, and advocacy on key issues. For more information, visit NACE maintains a virtual press room for the media.

    Data cited in this release are from NACE’s 2022 Student Survey, conducted February 22, 2022, through May 15, 2022. In all, 15,860 bachelor’s degree students nationwide responded, including 2,140 Class of 2022 graduating seniors, whose responses are used in this release. Employer data are from NACE Job Outlook 2022 survey, conducted August 18, 2021, through October 1, 2021, among organizations holding NACE membership as well as selected other companies that engage in college recruiting; a total of 157 organizations responded.