From Chronicle of Higher Education:

What do employers want? The association surveyed employers in the business and nonprofit sectors to find out what they most value in hiring college graduates.

With regard to Trend No. 1, 93 percent of the employers surveyed said that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.” They were not saying that a student’s major does not matter, but that, overwhelmingly, the thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills a job candidate has acquired in college are more important than the specific field in which the applicant earned a degree. Looking at successful leaders in business and in the nonprofit sector, you find that they have majored in everything under the sun. Many ended up, by choice, pursuing careers in fields other than the one in which they majored.

On Trend No. 2, the association’s survey found that “more than nine in 10” employers surveyed said it was important that job candidates “demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning. More than 75 percent of employers say they want more emphasis on five key areas, including critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.”

Those are not skills optimally developed through passive learning in lecture settings, including MOOCs. Rather, they are skills developed through active learning in settings that encourage dialogue, give-and-take, real-world problem-solving, and active mentorship. Put another way by the association, “Across many areas tested, employers strongly endorse educational practices that involve students in active, effortful work—practices including collaborative problem-solving, internships, senior projects, and community engagements.”

As for Trend No. 3, educators seem to assume that employers want concrete evidence of achievement, in the form of grades, for example. But, the association’s survey found, “employers consistently rank outcomes and practices that involve application of skills over acquisition of discrete bodies of knowledge.” High grades on tests just don’t cut it alone in terms of the broader knowledge and skills that employers value.

If we were to summarize the survey results, we might say that employers want the knowledge and skills that will be crucial not only to a student’s first job, but also to his or her second, third, and fourth jobs. They want a student who has learned how to learn and how to adapt flexibly to rapidly changing demands. They’re not all that concerned about specific majors or things like what gets academic credit and what does not.

The Chronicle also conducted a survey of employers, with similar results. It found, for example, that employers tend to place more emphasis on practical work and internships than on academic work. As The Chronicle survey also reported:

  • College graduates were most lacking in “written and oral communication skills, adaptability and managing multiple priorities, and making decisions and problem-solving.”
  • “Only 19 percent of employers look for specific majors and do not consider candidates without them, while the majority—78 percent—will consider any major.”
  • “Executives are least interested in considering candidates with specific majors (14 percent).”

Again, the survey did not say that major does not matter—simply that other qualifications matter more.