What does an employer want to see in a college graduate? The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace conducted a survey in 2012 of 50,000 employers who hire recent college graduates to understand employer perceptions of the role of colleges and universities in career preparation. The survey asked questions like, “What skills do college graduates need to succeed in the workplace?” and “Do you see these much-needed skills in prospective job seekers?”
The study found that the skills most needed by employers, such as written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, making decisions, and problem-solving, were found to be lacking in recent college graduates. Many employers report that new college graduates can memorize facts and regurgitate them, but do not exhibit the ability to go past what they learned in class. Unfortunately, their education did not include much time spent on designing a detailed approach to addressing a problem or actually engaging their design plans and evaluating their attempts.
One suggestion made by the Chronicle study for strengthening skills of graduates is for colleges and universities to support rich experiential opportunities that integrate content learned in classes with soft skills necessary in industry like those mentioned above.
Those of us in the world of undergraduate education hear what those in industry are saying. Unfortunately, we feel the pressure to deliver so many facts and figures to provide the students a basic understanding of their field. But this delivery is leaving no room for students to take on a project and work with it over time to investigate all parameters. Students have limited opportunities to ask, “If this idea doesn’t work, what can I try next?” Or, “If I get an answer I didn’t expect, how do I interpret that unexpected information?”
For students to be better prepared for their future, they need to have the experience of working with information over time and developing the ability to analyze and draw conclusions. Students need to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to ask the right questions.
Greenville Technical College has heard this call from employers and has developed a new program, Creative Inquiry. Modeled after Clemson University’s program, GTC’s Creative Inquiry is a college-wide initiative to provide students the opportunity to go beyond classroom instruction and get involved in faculty-driven or faculty-mentored research, career-related research, or problem-based learning.
In the GTC Creative Inquiry program, students seek out a mentor, either a faculty member or possibly a business community member, who can guide their project. They work on a project developed by their mentor or can propose their own topic of investigation. The student is expected to research the area and write a proposal, consisting of a review of the literature currently available, followed by a thorough description of their project, and how the results of their project add to the current body of knowledge.
The mentor and student discuss how the student is to progress throughout the semester, addressing certain benchmarks that need to be completed, and the student is expected to make progress toward his or her goal. By the end of the semester, the student will have a “product,” such as a paper, an oral presentation, a prototype or a newly developed protocol, and skills developed that will prove valuable when looking for employment.
GTC Creative Inquiry students sign up for a three-credit-hour college course in order to complete their project and receive credit towards their degree. These students will be able to demonstrate to potential employers that they have experience with long-term information management and have developed problem-solving skills not learned from a textbook.
During the course of their project they probably will have run into a dead end somewhere and have had to find their way around it to successfully complete their work to earn their grade. Students will have had to ask for help from other people, possibly a GTC librarian during the research phase or a GTC staff member well-versed in statistics or spreadsheet navigation, all the while learning cooperation, being on time for appointments, and communication skills in order to get answers to their questions.
Greenville Technical College is the first technical college in South Carolina to implement a college-wide undergraduate research program. Our goal is to prepare students with the skills sought by employers, whether the student is working toward an associate degree or plans to transfer and earn a baccalaureate degree.
We are looking for those in the business community to serve as mentors to our students. If you would like to share your expertise and help shape the future of a student, please contact Dr. Lee Edwards, director of Creative Inquiry at GTC, at 864-250-8457 or by email at Lee.Edwards@gvltec.edu.