More hot air about kids lacking job skills

Sept. 13, 2012
Another installment on the theme of what's-with-kids-these-days came recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education site in the blog of Chronicle editorial director Jeff Selingo. Selingo quotes Samuel J. Palmisano and A.G. Lafley, retired CEOs of IBM and ...

Another installment on the theme of what's-with-kids-these-days came recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education site in the blog of Chronicle editorial director Jeff Selingo. Selingo quotes Samuel J. Palmisano and A.G. Lafley, retired CEOs of IBM and Procter & Gamble respectively, about the importance of a liberal arts education:

"With the liberal arts 'you get to exercise your whole brain,' says Lafley, who graduated with a history degree from Hamilton College. 'Inductively reasoning in the science courses, deductively reasoning in some of the philosophy and humanities courses, abductively reasoning in design. You understand inquiry. You understand advocacy.'

Palmisano maintains that college graduates need a 'deep skill' in some academic subject, but that depth in one area needs to be supplemented with other knowledge. 'If you're deep in math and science or engineering, you've got to balance it with the humanities because you have to work in these multicultural global environments in the broadest sense of diversity. All religions. All cultures. All languages,' says Palmisano, who majored in behavioral social sciences at the Johns Hopkins University."

Really? My own engineering college required its students to take one-fifth of their curriculum in liberal arts courses, so I am not ignorant of what goes on in a college-level humanities class. Liberal arts courses certainly have value, but ascribing an understanding of advocacy and inquiry to 21-year-olds, by virtue of sitting in humanities courses, seems to be a bit of a stretch to me.

Selingo goes on to cite familiar refrains from employers who "complain that they often find today's college graduates lacking in interpersonal skills, problem solving, effective written and oral communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to think critically and analytically."

Blah, blah blah. We've commented on this phenomenon. Look back to the 1970s and 60s and you will find managers saying the same things about their new hires. Those new hires have today become the hiring managers griping about the same qualities in the 20-somethings they see filling out job applications (http://machinedesign.com/article/old-codgers-always-gripe-about-the-kids-0308).

Both the former CEOs and the hiring managers doing all the complaining are making the same mistake: They are looking for qualities in newly minted degree holders that can only come from experience, not from sitting in any sort of classroom, be it a liberal arts or calculus.

You can find Selingo's piece here: http://chronicle.com/blogs/next/2012/09/12/skills-gap-employers-and-colleges-point-fingers-at-each-other/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

About the Author

Lee Teschler | Editor

Leland was Editor-in-Chief of Machine Design. He has 34 years of Service and holds a B.S. Engineering from the University of Michigan, a B.S. Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan;, and a MBA from Cleveland State University. Prior to joining Penton, Lee worked as a Communications design engineer for the U.S. Government.

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