Every year, thousands of young adults across the US will receive their hard-earned diplomas, many of them preparing to join the workforce full-time. But time and time again, employers are reporting that recent graduates are arriving at the office overconfident yet underprepared. Why are recent college graduates struggling to keep up, yet unaware of the problem?
The professional problem
Two of the biggest complaints from employers stem from poor writing skills coupled with lackluster public speaking ability. This points to why recent college graduates struggling on the job might have been unprepared. But there’s actually a bigger issue at play.
The greater problem is that these graduates lack the ability to persuade, inspire, and inform others through writing and speaking at a professional level.
The journey to becoming a great storyteller somehow stops at the summer campfire in childhood. But this important ability connects many varied yet important skills together for professional competency down the road.
Writing on the wall
Most colleges and universities are trying to expose students to writing opportunities and provide support. While students can take their essays to the campus writing center, it’s usually not a requirement. Most colleges assume students arrive at college with significant writing preparation, but that’s not always the case. Many students can go through college with the bare minimum of writing exposure. One reason for this is because this skill is often contained to one or two required English classes, instead of being integrated into almost any topic in every major. Other students may be limited by their majors to technical or clinical writing. And writing is time-intensive for both students to write and teachers to grade. Fewer students still seek out career centers to work on their professional writing, and even those students may only work on developing concise cover letters with a career coach. Without more often and varied opportunities to practice writing, the trend of recent college graduates struggling to keep up with the demands of their professional roles will remain.
Speaking into the void
When it comes to public speaking, the presence of adequate public speaking training is few and far between. Some universities like Penn State are creating public speaking centers to provide support just like how writing centers provide coaching and advice on essay crafting. Other progressive institutions are adding public speaking software to their course offerings to better prepare students for their professional lives. But most students weave through their college courses without ever taking a class in the art of public speaking.
Colleges have not created many opportunities for students to bring these two important skills together to become powerful storytellers. Instead, the professional development pathways live in isolation from one another. Colleges should be providing opportunities for students to work on these skills simultaneously, both academically and recreationally. Story-based performances like “The Moth” are growing in popularity and would be a perfect fit on campus as practice in creating compelling narratives but also entertainment. Public speaking classes provide the rare opportunity to write speeches and then perform them, tying writing and speaking together in an important way.
Bridging the gap
But these skills should be integrated into every major so that by practicing in a variety of settings and topics, students are ready for the real world by graduation. A variety of majors from Public Health to Business to Psychology can and should provide at least some component of written and spoken assessments, but coupled with the necessary support like writing coaching and personalized public speaking training.
A scalable solution
To make this scalable, universities need to invest in high-quality online options that are accessible for every student. While some students may assert that public speaking isn’t related to their professional goals, it’s rare that someone glides through life without ever being called upon to communicate to a group of colleagues. Storytelling is universal. Whether it be research findings, pitching an invention to an investor, or writing a grant, even those in the sciences would benefit from adding this skill to their resumes. Even so, many graduates leave college with one major and enter completely different fields, so colleges should be preparing students for professional success in any setting. Recent college graduates struggling to keep up at work shouldn’t lose hope either.
But recent college graduates struggling to keep up at work shouldn’t lose hope either. More and more professional environments are providing opportunities for their new hires to advance skills they didn’t obtain in college. If you’re an employer of recent college graduates, consider offering online professional development training at your workplace. It’s never too late to learn the power of storytelling.