Are College Graduates ready for the working world?

People go to college to learn how to learn and to train their brain to assess problems and determine what possible steps could or should be taken. You go to a technical college to learn how to do a thing or perform a specific job. You want to learn how to work on HVAC equipment there’s a school for that – they’re important – but it’s not the same set of criteria used to measure the success of college graduate from a typical four or five year program.

What I am really talking about is critical thinking – a skill that requires good logic skills but demands that the thinker employ accuracy, relevance, clarity and significance.

Regardless of what I design – however small or insignificant – there are reasons for the moves I make. It’s not too often that my motivation is solely based on thinking something would simply look good. There is an ebb and flow to design, a push here requires a pull there – a never-ending series of compromises that get made to achieve a finished product. Sometimes those compromises aren’t made by me and are completely out of my control. That’s why doing what I do as an architect requires critical thinking. For that reason, I don’t expect the graduates that come to me looking for a job to be completely ready to enter the working world. The most valuable piece of information I want I can’t get off someone’s resume. Sure, I can look at a resume and infer from it if they are intelligent and that might get their foot in the door. What I am most interested in are finding smart and articulate communicators who have a passion for something. If you’re smart you’ll figure the rest out while learning how to make it your own. That last bit is the most important part because it implies ownership in the work – which I can then infer that you will have pride in the final product. You’ll want it to be good for yourself rather than simply being able to check the done box on the to-do list.

I sometimes wonder what people expect from the recent college graduates they hire. Transitioning between college life and the professional workforce is a huge process and who among us is great at anything the first time we try it? Performing well in a new job isn’t just about being able to do the work; it’s about working with others and the challenges that group dynamics always present. It’s also about learning how to conduct yourself with integrity and professionalism – you should consider that most recent grads still have to discover the value of learning for the sake of learning. Prior to graduation, their lives were based on achieving some sort of resolution to every project – there was a summation line to everything they did. The process of learning how to delegate authority and accept responsibility for things outside of their control is a painful one and I should expect to help steward people through this transformation – sort of a professional pay-it-forward process.

We do things a particular way in our office and there are things that I want done in a very specific way. Don’t worry, I will take the time to teach you those things but the rest … that’s up to you and your big brain. For what it’s worth, here are some items for consideration that I think grads entering the workforce should know:

  • You don’t know as much as you think you do and we both know it. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t, that just creates a new problem.
  • Recent college grads get entry level jobs and tasks. It is what it is until you earn more than that, you aren’t the Big Man on Campus anymore.
  • College hasn’t prepared you for everything; accept it and be flexible.
  • Are you looking for a job or a true calling? Are you here to work or be a part of something?
  • Be prepared to discover what personal accountability really means; there are no do-overs, extensions or free-passes for “next time”.
  • Work on your ability to communicate and actively listen
  • See your task through to completion. In other words – finish what you start.

These don’t sound too hard do they? They aren’t, but they don’t come naturally, and most graduates haven’t been asked to be accountable to someone other than themselves at this level before. When I step back and evaluate a new hire or a recent graduate, my criteria is almost always based on their ability to learn new things and their capacity to process information. College is a period of evolution and transition for most people and despite how hard you work or how hard you party, the grades you receive in your Psychology 101 class will never enter my radar screen. I suppose there is something to be said for the student who studies hard and makes really great grades because this speaks to preparation and responsibility which are also desirable traits in a college grad. I am probably speaking from personal experience in that I blossomed late and if you took a look at the grades I got when I was “transitioning” in school, as a possible future employer, you would have missed out on what I feel would have been your best employee. I get to work early, I leave late, I am a self-starter, and like to think I am extremely articulate and a good communicator. At what school did I hone those skills?  That’s right – the School of Life.

If you are a design professional, you will also know that the different college programs out there have different areas of focus to them. For example, I went to The University of Texas at Austin, where admittance is extremely competitive and it is a demanding and difficult program. They didn’t try and teach us all the things that we would need to know when we graduated – in fact, it’s almost like they went out of their way to avoid that sort of thing. The curriculum they focused on covered the areas that I wouldn’t be exposed to once I graduated. They rightfully made the conclusion that if I was smart enough to get into their program, I could figure out the technical aspects of the finer points of building detailing … and they were right.

Going to College, and therefore graduating from college, isn’t about teaching people how to solve a particular problem or perform a certain task. Going to college is about learning how to learn so you can hopefully solve new problems.

Original Article from Life of an Architect

Cite: Borson, Bob. "Are College Graduates ready for the working world?" 22 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 02 Sep 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=168767>

15 comments

  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Based on my experience with recent graduates and interns, if you go to a school like ETHZ you’ll hit the ground running.

    Seems like the lag between practice and school is widest in English speaking countries.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      This is not my experience, at all.
      Ask any draftsman about an ETH graduate. No idea what belongs in a 1:50, construction standards, no idea of SiA norms , Minergie standards…. and and and.
      This discrepancy is actuall very important. A ETH graduate should not be a draftsman.
      But thats just the point -I guess you didnt read the article.
      My school was the same : You have about 50 years to learn the professional world… enjoy the 5 you get at the start to expand your mind!
      ^_^

      • Thumb up Thumb down 0

        I didn’t say anything about drafting. Why don’t you learn to read correctly?

        I said hit the ground running … as in are able to contribute within the context of a design team from the first day (ability to communicate clearly via design norms, test ideas in modelling & drawing, prepare good quality analysis and so on).

        Nothing to do with Minergie, SIA norms, etc…? I think it’s just that many professors in their studios create a situation that is pretty close to the design culture within practice.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    How does the joke go?

    A man shows up for his first day of work and is met by someone who is to train him. The trainer asks
    “what kind of experience do you have?”

    “well, I have a masters degree”

    trainer “Then let me clear my calendar”

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    As a recent grad, it gave me clearer idea about what may employers are actually looking for.
    It was relieving to see that they are not looking for perfection or even talent as much as commitment, perseverance and integrity.
    Thanks!

  4. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I am also a recent graduate. I left school with a bachelors with the mindset that I wanted to “figure out what REALLY interested me” by getting some experience in the workforce before I threw a ton of money at grad school. My current job was exactly the type of job that I wanted to enter into, with a somewhat open future and variety of tasks. However, I find myself learning the ropes constantly. The author makes a wonderful point in stating that “You don’t know as much as you think you do and we both know it. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t, that just creates a new problem.” I try to make a point to walk that line as best as possible without looking like I know nothing about working in the real world.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I second your list of considerations and the whole point that school is a platform to teach young minds how to critically think, solve problems and tackle challenges. Many design students focus so greatly on final projects and design portfolios, forgetting that what many employers value more then pretty bound portfolios is the creative process of arriving at a solution, the road a student took to come to a particular design concept, the How and Why…not so much the What.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    You article shows a somewhat negative view towards new grads. From what I understand, the positive message in this is that you respect work experience as much and maybe more than school experience.

    Open your mind to younger (perhaps very naive) thoughts! You may learn a thing or two yourself.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    A very good article. One that every college student should read. As so well articulated by the author, it’s not so much how much knowledge you have attained in school, but how you learn to apply yourself and to think critically and logically. The knowledge you gain will be throughout your life and working career.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Interesting and insightful article. University is not about the practicalities of architecture, but the world view. I echoed the thoughts on our blog earlier this year, here.

Share your thoughts