The question "What's your major?" has gone from being a cheesy pickup line to something much more imperative these days as employers require broader skills from college graduates.
Whether you major in anthropology or chemical engineering, companies are looking for a skill set that may go beyond your school's core curriculum. The ability to speak in public, to write a succinct, grammatical business email, to do certain math operations beyond addition and subtraction could mean the difference between being one of the growing number of unemployed grads or one setting off on a long and fulfilling career.
Unemployment for people ages 20 to 24 was at 13.5 percent in June; for 25- to 34-year-olds, 7.6 percent, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Of those grads who are employed, 48 percent are working in jobs that require less than a four-year college education, according to a January study from The Center for College Affordability & Productivity. Plus, more than three-quarters of those underemployed grads are in occupations that require no more than a high school diploma.
According to BLS data, 284,000 Americans with a bachelor's degree or higher worked for minimum wage in 2012. That is down from 327,000 in 2010, but up a staggering 70 percent from 2002. That's a lot of well-educated baristas and waiters.
For years, employers and recruiters have said recent grads don't have the skills to fill many open entry-level jobs. Of the 704 employers surveyed in 2012 for a special report from The Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media's "Marketplace," 42 percent said it was "difficult" to find qualified recent graduates, and 11 percent classified it as "very difficult."
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"There is absolutely no doubt there is a talent gap when you think about who's graduating from college today and what many corporations need," said Chad Oakley, president and chief operating officer of executive search firm Charles Aris Inc. "So many of our clients have significant talent shortages at lower levels of the business."
Adding to the problem is the growing number of families that have less faith in the value of a four-year liberal arts education: Just 50 percent of Americans believe a college education is a good financial investment, according to a survey of 3,000 people by Country Financial released in July. That's down from 57 percent last year, and 81 percent in 2008.