This is a guest post by Ryan Craig, Author of A New U.


It’s generally acknowledged that we have a crisis of affordability in American higher education. The average college graduate who takes out federal student loans now graduates with nearly $40,000 in student loan debt. Adding insult to injury, however, is the lesser-known crisis of employability. Nearly half of all college graduates are underemployed in their first job, meaning they’re taking a first job that they could have gotten without the time, energy, and expense involved in their college degree.


The Truth About Underemployment


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Underemployment in the first job means less income off-the-bat, and probably greater difficulty beginning to make those student loan payments. It also has a lasting effect. According to a recent report from Strada’s Institute for the Future of Work, 2/3 of underemployed graduates remain underemployed five years later, and half remain underemployed a decade later. So today’s students no longer buy that tired college line that “we prepare you for your fifth job, not your first job.” They know that if they don’t get a good first job, they’re probably not going to get a good fifth job.

As a result, today’s students are laser-focused on getting a good first job in a growing sector of the economy. Many are adjusting by selecting seemingly pre-professional majors like business – and fleeing the liberal arts and humanities in record numbers. Others are double majoring, often choosing one professional or STEM major. College students are limited by a fundamental barrier: colleges and universities don’t do a good job of aligning academic programs and curricula with what employers want. Few faculty believe it’s their job to understand employer needs, let alone for entry-level positions. Many have never been employed in the private sector. Career services – higher education’s interface of choice to employers – is a separate office, divorced from academic programming and curriculum decision making.


Changes in Hiring


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If colleges and universities chose to investigate, they’d find that technology has fundamentally changed hiring in two ways, particularly for entry-level jobs. First, as enterprises have digitized, digital skills now outnumber all other skills in entry-level job descriptions, across nearly every industry. Most entry-level positions now involve utilizing software or SaaS platforms to manage a business function – a business function that used to be paper-based. Second, because every job is posted online and generates hundreds of résumés, employers utilize keyword-based filters called Applicant Tracking Systems to determine which résumés are actually seen by a human. If you don’t have sufficient keyword density, you’re not visible. And without the digital skills employers are increasingly listing in their entry-level job descriptions, too many college graduates are invisible.

Getting a great first job usually requires digital technology skills. That could be coding – knowing Java or .NET is a great help for a wide range of entry-level positions. But more often it’s a SaaS platform that’s used to manage a business function like supply chain, sales, marketing, customer service, finance, IT, and HR. Candidates who are able to add keywords to their resume like Pardot (marketing), Marketo (digital marketing), Google Adwords (digital marketing), Tableau (data analytics and visualization), ZenDesk Plus (customer service), NetSuite (finance), Financial Force (finance), Workday (HR), and Salesforce are much more likely to be seen by a human hiring manager, and considered. According to Burning Glass, jobs demanding Salesforce experience have quadrupled in the past five years; in 2017, more than 300,000 open positions called for Salesforce skills.

In addition to these cross-sector SaaS platforms, every industry has its own SaaS platforms for specific functions. For example, insurance companies and third-party claims administrators have a range of SaaS options for claims processing. Many of these are increasingly likely to be included in job descriptions (as HR managers scramble to beef up job descriptions in the face of the resume deluge), so candidates who don’t name these platforms on their resumes are less visible to hiring managers.


Fast and Cheaper Alternatives


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While few colleges and universities provide any relevant training on these software packages and SaaS platforms, there are a couple of ways to acquire these digital skills. One is to find an internship – preferably paid – where you’ll gain exposure to these platforms. If that doesn’t work, look for a bootcamp or Last-Mile Training program that provides immersive training in a short period of time. These Faster + Cheaper pathways to good first jobs can take a number of forms: bootcamps, income share programs, staffing, and apprenticeship models – many of which don’t charge tuition or require students to take out student loans, and some of which even guarantee great jobs in growing sectors of the economy like technology and healthcare.

The lesson is clear: while colleges do a great job preparing students with the cognitive skills they need to be successful in the long run – critical thinking, problem solving, “executive function” skills – they aren’t well positioned to provide students with the digital or “hard” skills that have become much more important in the hiring process, particularly at the top of the hiring funnel. As a result, don’t leave a good first job to chance. Be proactive in ensuring that you’re also getting the digital skills employers expect, and show prospective employers you can be a productive employee on day one.

For more information on alternatives to college, be sure to read Exploring the Options for Your Graduating Teen Who is Just Not Ready for a University.

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author

Ryan Craig is the author of “A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College.” Ryan is the managing director of University Ventures, an investment firm reimagining the future of higher education and creating new pathways from education to employment.

Picture Credit: Pixabay

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