What are the reasons for struggling college graduates around the world?

by Grace

College graduates from around the world are struggling and finding themselves “not where they hoped they’d be”.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:  a 28-year-old deputy manager of a McDonald’s restaurant … in Warsaw, Poland … who has degree in Russian language from Warsaw University … a 28-year-old waitress, serves a customer at Novel  cafe in Santa Monica, California…  studied for five years at Ball State University where she received a degree in painting and business management … a 30-year-old cook, in the Mavros Gatos (Black Cat) tavern in Psiri neighborhood in central Athens, Greece … studied at Athens Technology University (TEI) for four years where he received a degree in civil engineering’

… graduates from around the world who have been unable to find work in their degree fields and have ended up in poorly paid service industry jobs. Although their current positions may be disappointing, the subjects in these photos may count themselves lucky to have any job at all — the International Labor Organization estimates the number of people aged 15 to 24 without a job at almost 75 million. From a cook in Athens with a degree in civil engineering to a waiter in Algiers with a masters in corporate finance, these young people have spent years studying hard to compete in the 21st century, only to discover that even the most desirable qualifications mean little in a distressed global economy.

Even the “most desirable qualifications”?  The first thing that came to mind after seeing these photos is that we know nothing about their grades and other credentials.  They may have graduated toward the bottom of their class and have no relevant work experience.  Even if they earned a 4.0 GPA, did their alma mater provide them with a rigorous education?

Let’s look closely at one portrait of a struggling waiter.

Steffen Andrews, a 24-year-old waiter, serves a customer at Sunny Blue restaurant in Santa Monica, California, on April 24, 2012. Andrews studied for four and a half years at Cabrillo College where he received a degree in communications. He came to Los Angeles to work in the film industry but is now unsure what career he wants to pursue.

Cabrillo College is a community college that offers associate degrees and certificates.  On its website it invites students to “discover” their “passion” in one of the many areas of study offered.  Is it realistic to expect to get a well-paying job in the film industry when your main qualification is an associate degree in communications?

The faltering economy is affecting job prospects for college graduates, especially true in countries like Greece where the outlook is especially grim.  This is all the more reason for young people to consider carefully the practical aspects of the choices they make in higher education.  We should try to learn from examples like the ones in this story.  In the meantime, I wish all of them well in their future employment.

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3 Comments to “What are the reasons for struggling college graduates around the world?”

  1. Presumably, one of the reasons companies don’t want to train is that they don’t think their employees will stick around long enough to make the investment worthwhile.

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  2. Yeah, the guy with an associate degree in communications was an easy example, but I’m sure many of these cases exist. But you bring up a good point about employers. They have to pay for the skills they seek. It sounds as if they’re trying to do things on the cheap and then calling it a skills gap. But in many cases they’re not willing to pay the market rate for the talent they need.

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  3. Companies also need to be willing to train. Colleges can’t teach the really company-specific material. As an example, one of skills that CS graduates need if they go into software development is to work with version control systems. That skill is often overlooked in colleges, so many programs are adding it to their software engineering courses. However, there are a number of version control systems out there. I can teach students the principles, and how to effectively work in a version controlled environment. But I only have time to teach them one system. If I choose SVN, for example, then their resumes will say SVN rather than Git or Mercurial, or any of the other systems out there. Unfortunately, the automated resume filtering systems will filter out a resume that says SVN if the position description specifies Mercurial, even though the candidate has a good understanding of version control, and if given a day or two, could easilly learn Mercurial. This kind of thing, multiplied across hundreds of specific systems, presents a huge barrier to students graduating in computer science.

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