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Only Hiring Recent Grads?

July 2, 2014

Recently I have noticed a trend with both Wells Fargo and the Vanguard Group in their hiring practices. They tend to hire recent graduates over more experienced professionals.  I believe the reason they are doing this is quite simple. They are going for the cheap labor that is easy to mold into one of their automatons so that it can be easy to continue to sell dollar denominated assets to a more mature public who may be slowly but surely losing confidence in the dollar and the market. So in that sense these two companies like their employees “dumb and young.”

But lets say for argument sake that they are taking a more higher road. Lets say the reason they are doing this is because they find that recent graduates are more professional. It begs the question, what makes a professional? In the conventional use of the word, professionalism means membership in a profession that is defined by a license to practice a specific trade.

But I am using professionalism in a much broader sense here, to describe those attributes that enable a worker to be productive in their own work and work effectively with others. These attributes can be categorized into eight core skills.

One would think that professionalism–broadly speaking, the ability to self-manage, to be accountable, to communicate clearly, learn new material and work easily with others–would be a core curriculum in higher education, given its critical importance in the world of work. One would be wrong. If this is the assumption of Wells Fargo and the Vanguard Group in hiring recent grads, I am happy to tell them they are wrong.

Professionalism is not taught or even recognized as a subject worthy of being taught. Rather, the current educational system assumes that students learn these skills by osmosis or magic. This goes for Business Administration programs as well. Rather, the current administration assumes these students learn these skills by osmosis or magic.

Critical skills are not taught directly, they are assumed to be transferred via standard coursework. For example, self-learning to mastery is one of the essential skills needed to thrive in the emerging economy. The current system assumes that taking conventional courses teaches everyone to learn on one’s own to the point of mastery. But like every other skill, the ability to self-learn to mastery must be explicitly taught and learned. This is a skill that cannot be taught as a mandatory by employers, although it is done all the time. Employers send out emails about mandatory training so that staff members can more effectively do their jobs. A lot of these events are just politics, that is, if the organization is receiving state funds then they are required to have all their staff trained on a certain aspect of a job. In order to maintain funding that is the beginning and end of the concern of these employers. The drawback to this approach is that as an employer you never get to learn which one of your staff members has the critical skill of self-learning to mastery because you are forcing them to engage in self-learning to mastery via these mandatory events which they may ordinarily ignore. In this way, as an employer you never really get to learn who to keep and who to let go. Those who voluntarily engage in self-learning to mastery of course being the staff members you want to keep around.

The current system in place assumes that classroom interactions impart the interpersonal skills needed to work effectively with others in the workplace,  but it is quite possible to earn high marks in higher education and exit the system with poor interpersonal skills. Unfortunately, many of these students end up working for firms such as the Vanguard Group and Wells Fargo in supervisory roles.

It is assumed that successfully navigating the institutions of higher learning will impart professional skills: showing up on time, performing as promised, being accountable, and so on. Once again, this assumption is false: performing well in institutions of higher learning has no correlation to performance in the workplace.

If the higher education system does not explicitly teach these skills, students will not learn them, even if they excel in fulfilling  the criteria of higher education–earning high marks on exams, etc.

The unspoken assumption of the current higher education system is “we’re not a trade school; its up to employers to teach their new employees.” This is yet more evidence that higher education is completely out of touch with the real-world economy: in the real world, employers want new employees who are able to create value by profitably solving problems on day one. Training people to be professional as companies such as U.S. Airways and Colonial Penn have had to do is a waste of time and money to these enterprises facing a surplus of college-educated applicants.

The ultimate purpose of skills is to solve problems. Problem solving has become a cliché of sorts, and so we need to ask, what set of skills is required to profitably solve problems?

The set of necessary skills divides into two categories: hard skills in specific fields and soft skills that enable ownership of tasks and projects, systematic application of creativity and critical thinking, and professional standards of collaboration and conduct.


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