FEDEWA: The preparedness gap

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A recent survey of 401 randomly selected human resource professionals by the Center for Professional Excellence (York College of Pennsylvania, 2013) reveals some uncomfortable information.

The focus of the annual survey was a measurement of the degree of professionalism displayed by millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) who have recently graduated from college. There are several definitions of “professionalism,” but for our purposes here, “professionalism” means behavior associated with common business standards such as, courtesy, respect for others, strong work ethic, punctuality, and neat appearance.

Some of the “unprofessional” traits cited by hiring managers during job interviews with millennials are poor personal hygiene, inappropriate attire, facial piercings, inappropriate footwear, visible tattoos, and unnatural hair color. Other factors: not being prepared for the interview, being tardy, poor verbal skills and grammar, acting uninterested, being overconfident, and making a poor presentation of one’s self. (pp. 12-13).

On-the-job complaints from supervisors include an exaggerated sense of entitlement, as though the employer owes employee a job; excessive use of technology for personal matters and substituting emails for face-to-face conversations; poor work ethic; and inappropriate attire. (pp. 16-17).

The fact is that no one has taught these youngsters what the business world expects of them in their personal conduct on the job.

Another, much larger study of 3,109 stakeholders commissioned by Bentley University (2014) measured the preparedness of college graduates for the workplace. All of the stakeholders — business decision-makers, corporate recruiters, higher education influentials, high school students (juniors and seniors only), parents of high school students (juniors and seniors only), parents of college students, college students, recent college graduates (within the past five years), and members of the general public (U.S. adults 18 and over) — unanimously agree that graduate preparedness should be rated C or lower.

All stakeholder groups (including 49percent of the college influentials) agreed that it is the responsibility of the colleges to undertake this aspect of education. As a former member of the academic community, I would question whether the faculties are prepared to teach the business standards of dress and conduct when many of them do not themselves observe these standards.

Another option is to hold special sessions on “proper” etiquette, as did one college. The auditorium was nearly full as the speaker taught how to use silverware at a formal dinner, how to order in a fancy restaurant, when to arrive, what to wear, appropriate language and manners, and the like.

Perhaps the colleges can rise to the challenge after all. Not to do so will constitute a major disservice to both their students and American businesses.

If millennials are so hard to understand and manage, why do companies keep hiring them? The answer lies in the labor shortage of highly skilled personnel, one of the ironies of this jobless era.

This knowledge seems to be one factor behind the sense of entitlement displayed by some of the recent graduates making their entrance to the work force a mixed blessing. With more exposure to the world of business which they are about to enter, however, their infusion of energy and creativity will make them more welcome in their new world.

The York survey of hiring professionals reports on one side of the generation gap. There are, however, reports from the millennial side of the gap regarding their impact on the business world, such as the Bentley survey.

Shama Hyder (Forbes, 12/6/2013) writes of the Bentley study: “74% of non millennials agree that millennials offer different skills and work styles that add value to the workplace. No generation before has had as much access, technological power or the infrastructure to share their ideas as quickly as the millennials. They are used to speed, multi-tasking, and working on their own schedule. These can be great assets in a knowledge economy which values end results over the process. That’s not to say that they don’t have much to learn from others in the workplace, only that organizations should focus on leveraging their strengths in addition to helping them better their weaknesses.”

Baby boomers, move over. The next big wave of newcomers already has begun to appear.

The challenge now is to assimilate them into our businesses so that we can benefit from their contributions and aid them on their way up the ladder to replace us (a sobering thought!).

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