Ashley Yazbec, an account manager for Wiley, and an MFA graduate of the California Institute of the Arts, recently wrote on the Wiley website about the fact that job prospects remain dismal for American youth.

According to Ms. Yazbec, it’s no secret why that’s the case.

“While the economy has somewhat improved after the Great Recession, the fact remains that 39 percent of people under age 25 are unemployed or underemployed,” she wrote. “This statistic leaves many wondering: how is it possible that the most educated generation in U.S. history struggles to gain footing in the professional world?”

Ms. Yazbec smartly points to one culprit for this dilemma: the skills gap.

Research shows that recent college graduates currently experience greater difficulty in securing a job that utilizes their degree than those of a similar age a decade ago. According to a recent McKinsey study, among college-educated youth, only 55 percent landed in a job relevant to their field of study, with 25 percent finding interim work – jobs that are unrelated to their field of study and that youth plan to leave quickly.

Incredibly, this is transpiring in the midst of a growing job market, not a shrinking one. The reason? Again, in the words of Ms. Yazbec, employers report that candidates don’t have the right skills to fill vacant positions.

Here’s another compelling fact Ms. Yazbec presents in her article: while 72 percent of educational institutions believe recent graduates are ready for work, only 42 percent of employers believe the same. That’s a 30 percent difference in perception between academia and the marketplace!

A primary reason, Ms. Yazbec explains, is that “many in-demand competencies that employers consider essential to the workplace – hands-on training, problem-solving, computer literacy – are not emphasized or not easily measured by educators.”

The fallout from this skills gap has deleterious repercussions for the economy – not just for underemployed college graduates. According to research conducted by the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the skills gap contributes to reduced productivity, diminished employee performance, risk of not achieving strategic plans, lack of leadership vision, loss of market share, reduced positive employee working relationships, and increased turnover.

Adding fuel to the fire, Ms. Yazbec aptly points out that roughly two-thirds of students graduating from U.S. colleges and universities are graduating with some level of debt (one in 10 incur more than $40,000) – a clear drain on the economy in that we have a generation of young people postponing economy boosters like home-buying, marriage, and starting families.

Ms. Yazbec then asks the question we all should be asking: How do we bridge the gap between college and gainful employment?

Her answer is a clear challenge to all institutions of higher learning. “Institutions must recognize that their paramount measure of success is the ability of their graduates to obtain gainful employment,” she writes.

There are two distinct and focused ways that we can help bridge this gap. The first is through the effective implementation of meaningful experiential education, or internship, opportunities for students.

In the United States today, internships and other forms of experiential learning that integrate academic coursework with “real-world” work experience have become more and more popular for both students and employers looking to bridge the “skills gap”.

According to Dr. Robert Shindell, president & CEO of Intern Bridge, the nation’s premier experiential education research and consulting firm, college students who engage in an internship are more likely to make the transition to gainful employment post-graduation than those students who do not engage in an internship.


Well, the answer is quite simple according to Mr. Shindell.

“When an employer hosts an intern, they are teaching the student the specific skills that they need to be successful within their organization that are not taught in the classroom as part of the formal academic curriculum” Mr. Shindell stated.

The second way that students can bridge this skills gap is through their own personal development. As a professor at MTSU, and the director of the Center for Student Coaching and Success, I have developed a program called “the five to arrive.” They constitute the foundation of what must be built prior to embracing any kind of skill. Here they are:

  • Embrace the Mission: We insist on some degree of personal change, and not simply personal growth. What does that mean? Personal change is built through personal assessment and personal coaching that drives incremental, purposeful action toward gainful employment.
  • Become More Self-Aware: We are taught that if we want more, then we must have more education, more relationships, and more opportunity. While this is true, the reality is that if we want more, we must also become more self-aware. It is the foundation on which any development, personal and/or professional, must be built.
  • Conduct an Honest Personal Assessment: Personality is something that generally doesn’t change, whereas behaviors are how we choose to act. If one desires, he or she can choose to adapt and behave differently. Learning about oneself and discovering one’s fit with a career path is a remarkable benefit to students. Once students identify their traits, a strengths-based approach helps put the students identify and develop skills and abilities and put them into practice so they can better prepare for and succeed in their chosen professions. Partnering with Harrison Assessment, we offer students the opportunity to complete one assessment and receive 6 different reports including Traits & Definitions, Your Greatest Strengths, Summary & Key Words, Emotional Intelligence, Career Development and Career Options.
  • Understand Your Script: Students have a narrative or “script” that they have either created for themselves or has been created for them, and it is this very “scripting” that has an impact positively or negatively on outcomes in their lives. Soon-to-be-graduates must identify what this “script” is and then identify what steps it will take in order to create a “new script” to bridge the challenging gaps between approaching graduation, graduation and gainful employment.
  • Gainful Employment: There is a difference between employment and gainful employment. Employment is trading time for money. Gainful employment is where the student gets some kind of psychological benefit (meaning, purpose, contribution) by doing the work that they do. We help students find gainful employment with a clear vision of where they want to go and how to get there! Period! In their chosen career path! And prior to walking across the stage at graduation!

Many students today come to campus at 18 years old and think their ticket to a substantial career is simply being eligible for the position – which they deem to be possession of a college degree. What most learn along the way is that it’s just as much (if not more) about suitability (their behavior) and the relationships they create. Educators must come to the same conclusion Ms. Yazbec has – it’s about one thing: gainful employment and use that to drive the development of “soft skills” if students are ever to become the potential workers we need them to be.