“Bridge That Gap” – Students Lack Skills, Says Study

Between 2013 and 2014, I wrote a blog at higher-learning.ca covering a wide variety of student-centric concerns. I have archived some of these posts here since that website no longer exists. For more information on my student leadership experience, please click here.

Chegg, a company devoted to providing online resources for students, recently conducted a study where they interviewed university students and hiring managers. The study is called “Bridging That Gap – Analyzing the Student Skill Index”.

Although Bridging That Gap is a U.S-based study, there are some important lessons for Canadian university students, and echoes a number of things I’ve already written about.

We live in an era of massive cultural change, and the institution of higher education has not escaped these forces. The popular imagination has been captured by technology moguls who pride themselves on having dropped out of college…

I’ve covered that one already in my blog and The Globe And Mail. In fact, 20% of the worlds wealthiest people have dropped out of university or high school.

[…] the importance of school prestige, the cachet of professional connections and the weight employers give to grade point averages are the three biggest misconceptions students have about their employability.

Although a lot of school pride exists on Canadian campuses, we don’t have the equivalent of Harvard or Stanford up here. Although there are ‘big’ schools like U of T, McGill, and UBC, I believe that differences between schools are largely artificial.

Then there’s the grade point averages myth. I recently just discovered I have a 2.38 GPA, and I couldn’t care less. That said, I am not aiming to get into a graduate studies program, medical school, or law school, I’ve never given much thought to scholarships, and I’ve been very involved in extracurricular activities. Your results may vary.

An aside: ironically, after publishing this survey, Chegg’s homepage still claims that you can ‘Raise your GPA w/ a FREE Study Trial’. Clearly there are a number of people profiting from the grade point average misconception… the average student is not one of them.

But, what about connections? According to the study, they’re not as important. I disagree.

77% [of students] believed professional or personal connections in their field of interest was important for securing a job […] only 52% of hiring managers agreed

From my point of view as a student, networking is probably one of the most important ‘soft skills’ young people can learn. Building professional connections is wildly important, and is something I will be covering in-depth very soon. I agree with the study in that success is not reliant on ‘who you know’, but I very strongly believe that success is about your ability to provide value to who you know.

  • 93% of hiring managers want to see that the graduates they hire have demonstrated the initiative to lead.
  • 91% of hiring managers hope to see that applicants they hire have participated in extracurricular activities related to their field of study.
  • 82% think the recent graduates they hire should have completed a formal internship before graduating from college.

All of this stuff should be a no-brainer to students. In past articles, I’ve recommended that first-year students choose one ‘primary’ extracurricular activity that they would want to be in charge of someday, and then get involved in other extracurriculars as time permits.

Internships are a trickier issue given the recent controversy around unpaid internships, which is a job category with no oversight or tracking in Canada. The real value of internships is that they act as proof that you are able to perform a certain job to a satisfactory level. For many jobs, there are other ways to get relevant experience while proving your ability – students just have to get creative. I’ll be writing about this soon.

The Skills Gap

From the study:



The above results are a bit alarming. It shows that many hiring managers are disappointed with their new graduate hires, but even more importantly, it shows that students overestimate their capabilities to add value to a workplace in every possible way.

Is this any surprise? The study goes on to identify how students spend their free time. The largest time sink was socializing, followed by involvement in extracurricular activities that are unrelated to the students’ field of study.

A very small minority of students reported working in jobs or extracurriculars related to their field of study as major extracurricular pursuits, and although 77% of students believed connections were important to their professional life, only 2% spent significant amounts of time networking.

Although it’s clear that students could be doing more to develop relevant workplace skills, I would like to mention that ‘socializing’ isn’t necessarily bad. The friends and connections I’ve made with other students over my years at university have shaped my learning experience and made me the person I am today. As a student, your social life gives you a basis to interact with other people, get involved with extracurricular activities, debate and discuss issues, and all sorts of other things that develop ‘soft skills’. I’m not saying you’ll become an amazing employee by hitting up Tequila Tuesdays every week, but getting your nose out of your textbooks once in a while has its benefits.

My Advice to Students

Employment isn’t the be-all and end-all of a university career, nor should it be. Your degree isn’t a ticket to a well-paying job and a comfortable retirement, but your admission package is a ticket to a world of opportunities and possibilities. If you actively pursue those opportunities, you will have a more fulfilling university experience while making yourself more employable. It’s a win/win for students willing to go that extra mile.”