James Mitchell| Crain’s Custom Media

Hiring managers had a chance to tell students what they think. And the advice was direct.

Students – even the best and brightest – may not have what industries say are the critical skills needed in the workplace.

The consensus heard at the a series called “Students Speak” brought members of the National Campus Leaders Council together with employers. The most valuable lessons, employers said, won’t be found in textbooks but through non-technical experiences such as teamwork and problem-solving.

“I always question if young people understand how important those skills are,” said Gregory Handel, vice president of education and talent for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, co-sponsor with the Workforce Intelligence Network of the first in a 15-city series of talks.. “[Companies] want people who can get a job done, not just understand the technical aspects.”

The gap between employer needs and student readiness to enter the workforce was best defined by a recent survey cited by NCLC Executive Director Andy MacCracken: While 96 percent of college academic officers believe their graduates are ready for work, only about 11 percent of business leaders agree.

“What are the skills that employers are looking for,” MacCracken asked early in the session. Participating business leaders agreed with Handel’s summary of the top four abilities employers look for: Problem solving, communication, teamwork and global awareness. Those lessons, they said, were part of a continuing education.

“One of the things needed is the ability to continue to learn,” said Linda Kruso, director of workforce planning for Beaumont Health Systems. Standout new hires, she said, are those who “show initiative and ask about the next opportunity.”

Participating students understood and wondered – given their positions as campus leaders involved in various organizations – if they’d already acquired those skills. Bobby Dishell, Student Body President at University of Michigan Ann Arbor, said that he’d experienced “workplace hierarchy” through the “social skills and office politics” he’d encountered.

What may be needed, other students said, are courses or seminars that address areas such as interviewing and understanding a corporate culture. “We don’t have that person teach those skills,” Wayne State University student William Alexander said.

Admittedly, the young participants were among what Handel called the “high fliers” of their generation, for whom he had little concern about their eventual success. He did, however, advise that obtaining a degree was only the start of a career education, and patience should temper their eagerness.

“Hold back a little,” Handel said. However high-tech the positions being sought, “old school” fundamentals as learned through internships, co-op positions or those first months on the job … take time. “You can’t run people over.”

The NCLC will update its findings from spring sessions in cities including Los Angeles, Cleveland and Boston, and a report is expected this summer.

For information on the Students Speak session visit www.nationalcampusleaders.org.

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