For employers anxiously watching the labor market for signs the pool of available talent is getting larger, recent high school and college graduates are an important demographic. Every year brings millions of new high school and college graduates to the workforce, representing a potentially lucrative pool of labor for employers to recruit from.

But do these recent graduates have the skills to successfully transition from academia to the real world?

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking has increasingly been appreciated as a core skill in recent years. The idea behind critical thinking is that students don’t simply learn by mindlessly absorbing facts and figures presented to them. Instead, they’re trained to question, analyze, and scrutinize what they’re told; to look for hidden biases and assumptions in commonly held beliefs; and to think for themselves.

In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, Tara A. Rose and Terri L. Flateby summarize the findings of a survey of employers that were asked to rate recent college graduates’ skills. A common critique of survey respondents was recent graduates’ tendency to parrot their superiors rather than providing constructive feedback or alternative viewpoints. Additionally, respondents noted that recent graduates generally seemed to jump to conclusions and make quick decisions and judgments rather than taking time to carefully think through problems.

Written Communication

It may be surprising that employees who spent years in an academic setting would fare poorly in terms of written communication, but that was the view many survey respondents expressed. They felt younger workers often write as though they’re texting, and such communication is brief and lacks appropriate context or a full appreciation of the audience.


Additionally, survey respondents identified teamwork as a key skill. However, recent events have made it more challenging for recent graduates to develop key teamwork skills, though through no fault of their own.

The forced and widespread shift to remote work necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic greatly disrupted the ability of millions of students to engage in in-person collaboration during a crucial stage of their preparation for life in the workforce.

Recent graduates have the benefit of having had access to the most recent and up-to-date information academia has to offer. Although they leave their institutions armed with top-notch educations, they don’t always have the most employable skills. Specifically, critical thinking, written communication, and teamwork are areas where employers have noticed important skills gaps. This signals the need for training and development to help these new employees excel.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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