Employers generally prefer college graduates with broader skill sets, including communication and problem solving skills, to those with industry-specific skillsets, according to a study released by Northeastern University officials Tuesday.
“Despite the recent focus on STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] degrees, most Americans, and particularly business leaders, say it is more important for graduates to be well-rounded and possess broader capabilities, such as problem solving and communication skills,” the report stated.
Northeastern collected results for the public opinion survey by polling both individuals and businesses via telephone.
The report states that 73 percent of business leaders and 65 percent of American individuals believe “being well-rounded with a range of abilities is more important than having industry expertise because job-specific skills can be learned at work.”
On the other hand, the report’s findings showed that 35 percent of business leaders and 27 percent of American individuals agree that good industry-specific skills outweigh general skills because they are crucial to success in entry-level positions.
Despite these differing opinions, the report’s findings gathered that overall, “Americans resolutely believe in the importance of experiential leraning for long-term career success.”
Overall, 60 percent of business leaders prefer broadly-applicable skills, while only 40 percent prefer specific skills, the report stated.
In addition, 87 percent of American individuals and 84 percent of business leaders said they value creativity on the job just as much as critical thinking skills, according to the report.
The majority of Americans also agree on the importance of internships, the report stated.
“Most Americans say integrating educational programs with professional work experience is key for preparing graduates,” the report stated.
When asked which factors would lead to increased employment among college graduates, 63 percent of business leaders said improved communication, writing, and critical thinking skills would be beneficial, but only 55 percent said STEM degrees would improve employment chances for graduates.
The report also gauged Americans’ overall belief in the importance of education, including the effectiveness of online education and programs.
“Americans continue to believe in the importance of higher education, but express concerns about the system’s ability to prepare graduates for success in today’s workforce,” the report stated.
As for online education, which is on the rise alongside technological innovation, U.S. citizens are expressing declining confidence in online education programs.
In 2012, 49 percent of Americans believed online education provides a similar quality of education to traditional methods. The report stated that percentage has declined to 41 percent this year.
Louisa Otey, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said the skills that employers look for depends on the job they are trying to fill.
“If it’s a restaurant job or a general business position, then a broader skill set is definitely going to be more desired, because you need to be able to communicate with people and have social skills,” she said. “… But if you’re working behind a desk, a specific technical skill set is more applicable to that.”
Christina Asare, a CAS freshman, said she believes a broader skill set is more important to employers than any one specific skill.
“In this economy, you’re going to need more diverse skills in order to do different tasks that pop up every now and then,” she said. “So I feel like that would be more useful than just having one specialized set [of skills].”
Casey Marshella, a School of Management junior, agreed that while employers like to see that candidates have skills applicable to their field, candidates should also have more general skills such as the ability to work in teams.