In a recent WSJ poll conducted of CFO’s their number one concern today is retaining qualified workers. After 21 years of the survey tracking quarterly concerns, this is the first-time financial executives put it at the top of their list. Enrollment in colleges is dropping due to less high school grads and affordability. The college degree is still the ticket. But increasingly career focus is not happening concurrently. Outcomes (career thinking) are not being promoted until later in the college experience. Colleges and students today need employers to take control of their own needs and help fill the skills gap.
For a variety of reasons, students today are leaving academia with greater debt and a perception by employers (and even the students) of less preparedness to enter a career path. Nearly 73% of college graduates hold a job position unrelated to their major. The average 30-year-old has already had 5 jobs. Less than 30% of teenagers have ever worked. With two earner households and divorce rates hover near 50%, adolescents are experiencing an upbringing with less experiential learning than generations before them. This creates a unique challenge to employers with candidates more uncertain of their options and still struggling to identify their passions. Higher employee turnover and hiring inefficiency is lowering the ROI of hiring. The paradigm must change.
For decades recruitment happened at colleges in a targeted manner. Throughout most of the 20th century employers would arrive at selected colleges to hire a predetermined group of soon to be graduates into their management ranks. In the 1970’s after the GI Bill and more women entering college, the population of graduates boomed leading to more colleges and more students on campuses. Career fairs became the methodology for schools to expose more students to employers who themselves were changing their hiring practices. Meanwhile, with rapid cultural advancements, two earner households became more normal and job retention levels started to drop. By the 1990’s, students were being raised by a new generation of busy helicoptering parents influenced by changes from their own adolescent experience, discipline and technology. Their college goal for their children became simply to get a degree (the trophy). The career decision is postponed and with it much of the life skill preparation of past generations.
This creates new challenges for employers. Consider this; Less than 25% of students today by the time they graduate have ever visited their career service office. According to a Wharton study, apprenticeships since 2003 are down 50%. From 2001 to 2008 training programs dropped 20% and even more so in the last decade. In the 1980’s 10% of jobs were filled outside of current employee ranks with 90% of jobs filled thru promotions. Today 60-70% of hires are from outside. The cost of training is perceived to be worth paying for someone else to do and is no longer emphasized by many companies. Many view the hiring process as broken and are revisiting corporate cultural thinking and training. New models have started to show some notable best practices that create different work/life balances and work environment transformations. Onboarding and training are focused on education, while screening employees thru algorithms with more intuitive matching to cultural identity is proving to have results. Management training rotations, modifying the 1950’s and 1960’s approaches are being revisited with some identifying specific skills to be acquired pre -employment.
Internships prior to graduation to “test run” candidates and prior-to-hire apprenticeships cultivate stronger mutual commitments from both employers and candidates. Hiring interns before graduation can be beneficial as a screening tool and to improve productivity and ROI. Internship program design thru Six Sigma type processes and procedures can be borrowed from manufacturing and distribution improvements of the last few decades. Proper planning and project identification takes the strengths of an emerging generation’s technology skills and applies them for marketing, data analysis and other skill sets. Combined with the traditional experiential skills of past generations, young hires can be mentored quite productively. Creativity combines the experience of current employees teaching their wisdom to a new generation that gravitates to data analysis. This is enlightening, while constantly evolving and personally rewarding in their day to day job functions.
Internships can leverage “water flowing downhill “projects or creatively be implemented with compensation incentives to increase retention after full time hiring. Companies use internships to lower recruiting costs thru a more pragmatic hiring process of identifying characteristics that already prove valuable with current employees. Leadership skills practiced by students thru participation in sports and other on campus affinity groups can be markers for better recruiting screens. Rather than blind dating students at campus events, recruiters can pre-identify students thru behavior and request specific training to better prepare their entry experience.
For STEM skills, this process has been in place for years. Boot camps are now much more prevalent as a further booster in that “Last Mile”. Midwest cities have a great opportunity to offer an affordable cost of living and coordinate regional best practices to engage young graduates and apprentice candidates. ROI improving strategies are measurable. There is a unique opportunity to change the paradigm that is already attracting many millennials to look for career opportunities in the heartland. Internships are the beacon for companies to consider as critical in the attractive methodology for improving retention in the future.