What MnSCU has been hearing from Minnesota employers so far

Fire up that gizmo -- and don't be such a pain, OK?

I’ve been interested in checking in on what the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system has learned so far through its workforce assessment program, which I reported on earlier this year.

The MnSCU budget released earlier this month suggests that the statewude listening sessions that system officials had with employers prompted at least a couple of initiatives, such as money for internships and a boost in learning-equipment purchases.

I’ve got calls in, but I noticed this update on a state Department of Employment and Economic Development website. (It has teamed up with MnSCU and the state Chamber of Commerce on the project.)

It’s the site’s quick summary of the main themes so far. The information is NOT mine. I’ve just edited the points down and consolidated the original version to weed out any redundant comments. I’ve also added in a few of my own comments and interpretations.

 

1. Soft Skills are Important

“Soft skills” is a somewhat imprecise term. In the listening sessions employers used it to refer to both complex and teachable skills such as project management, conflict resolution, and problem-solving, as well as more basic attributes such as showing up for work on time, being flexible, and being accountable as an employee.

Employers stressed that workers who don’t have them are less likely to be hired in the first place.

Some comments made during the session:

  • Straighten up. Customer service orientation and basic work expectations such as being on time, professional dress, following rules and procedures, etc., are all lacking. As communication via technology has increased, it seems communication “in person” has suffered. Even when applicants have good qualifications, they are hired based on personality and soft skills. Technical skills are key, but even a lack of low-tech skills can be overcome with good customer service skills.
  • We’re coping with being more diverse. We need diversity and cultural sensitivity training. (Note: If this is a statement employers are making about themselves, this is illuminating.)
  • Better thinking and bedside manner, please. Registered nurses with advanced degrees can “hit the ground running,” but they lack critical thinking and problem-solving skills. New nursing graduates have sufficient technical skills, but softer skills are lacking.

2. Hands-On Experience Needed

Employer comments suggested that, in general, new graduates will be far more marketable and valuable if they have gained some practical experience during their education.

Comments:

  • Do your homework. Students need to know what business they are going into. Some kind of experience, such as an internship, is critical. Students should have “ride alongs” or job shadowing to gain exposure to the job.
  • Colleges, help them do it. It’s important for colleges to provide fellowships, externships and residency programs to aid in transition from student to employee. That said, specific skills training could be accomplished using an intensive simulation experience.
  • Just get a job — any job. Work experience is really important, even fast food experience. Those jobs are tough. (Note: This next one is for the entitlement kids.) People don’t know what a good job is if they never had a bad job.
  • Machines count. Manufacturers would like to see graduates with a little more background in working on the machines, more hands-on experience.
  • Health care students need help with both tech skills and bedside manner. We need more experience at the bedside. There do not appear to be enough clinical skills/experiences for students. Examples include wound care and IVs. More internship experiences are needed. New graduates also lack clinical experience and knowledge of electronic health record technology.

This last one is a kicker. K-12 folks: Here’s where you come in.

  • Start early. Students need to get started programing in high school. They should also get used to working on project teams in high school.
  • Carolyn

    This frustrates me. Students these days are spending more time (and money) in school learning things that used to be taught on-the-job. Even for simple occupations like a health care technician who performs a very limited range of tasks, job postings require training and experience. (For example, I have seen “transport associate” positions that amount to little more than a wheelchair pusher in a hospital where the basic qualifications include an EMT license and 6-12 months’ patient care experience.)

    Employers need to take responsibility for mentoring new employees, especially new grads, and helping them learn “soft skills”. Of course it would be nice if there were an abundant pool of applicants for an entry-level job who already had experience in the field. But it’s an entry-level job, and placing the burden on students to obtain that experience as unpaid employees, or worse yet, to pay sky-high college tuition rates for a credit-based internship, is unreasonable.

    In jobs where soft skills are important, employers shoud focus their recruitment efforts more on finding the soft skills than on weeding out people who don’t have the specific technical skills. (In the example above, there would be a much greater pool of applicants available if the EMT license requirement were dropped and the hiring managers instead put some time into evaluating applicants’ “people skills” and customer service attitude.