New grads face tough road when transitioning to workplace: Surveys

Employers’ unwillingness to train means colleges will have to do more, says expert
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/06/2017

Both employers and educators need to change their ways to combat the widening skills gap if new graduates are to successfully transition into the workforce, say experts.

Just 10 per cent of companies are actively working to integrate millennials, despite tensions stemming from perceived differences in work habits and values, found a recent report released by Ontario’s Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

That, alongside an unwillingness to train employees, will eventually come back to bite Canadian employers, said HRPA public affairs vice-president Scott Allinson in Toronto.

“Companies that are putting forward the type of training incentives that are important to millennials actually have a 23 to 25 per cent higher retention rate than other companies,” he said, noting Canada lags behind the United States on this issue. “This could be termed as a competitive advantage from one company over another.”

Choosing to train millennials can pay off in more ways than simply retention, said Allinson.

“This whole misconception that they’re lazy… that’s really not there,” he said. “It’s them being motivated. Once they’re motivated, you actually have one of the best generations with the skills at your disposal.”

Training needed

While 41 per cent of Canadian employers are actively hiring new graduates — up six points from last year —  less than half (47 per cent) are offering training to employees overall, according to a 2016 survey by Hays Talent Solutions of more than 4,000 employers and employees.

Many graduates don’t benefit from continued industry training because identifying career progression can be a challenge for companies, said Travis O’Rourke, head of Hays Talent Solutions in Toronto. And many organizations only have limited room for employees at the next level, rendering training unnecessary.

It depends on the sector. IT employers, for example, are more willing to train as the industry undergoes constant change, he said.

“Investing in training is investing in a long-term employee,” said O’Rourke.

“Organizations who invest in a succession plan, career path and training have a much happier and more productive workforce. Your turnover goes lower and that extends out to the market. More people want to work for your organization.”

The lack of investment in training across Canadian businesses is a major worry, with the skills shortage deepening and industries such as IT beginning to recruit heavily overseas, he said.

“If we’re not developing the skills at home, and we’re having to go offshore to find them, I wonder how long it will be before the work starts to go offshore, not just the recruiting effort?”

Two main issues continue to hold companies back when hiring new graduates, said O’Rourke —  deficient soft skills and a lack of industry experience.

“When a new graduate is entering the workforce, it’s a very different environment,” he said.

“A lot of organizations are under pressure for productivity right now, due to a skills shortage. You want to hire people who you can almost set on autopilot, who are going to involve as little management and effort as possible. And that’s a challenge that millennials are going to have to overcome — that integration to the workforce from student life.”

Students should be introduced to the realities of the workforce even earlier than college, said O’Rourke.

Government, educators and industry leaders should urge high school students to pursue appropriate sectors immediately into their college careers, he said, such as IT, which has one of the largest national skill shortages.

“To get a graduate from high school to invest in a computer science or mathematics degree, it’s not the sexiest opportunity,” said O’Rourke.

“And out of the back-end of that, four years later, we have a significant shortage in graduates entering the field and the skills shortage has trickled down from there. We’re not doing a good enough job promoting the long-term career potential at that early age... I’d like to see government and industry do a much better job in getting involved in post-secondary or secondary education and teaching individuals that the choices that they make today do have a larger effect on their career path down the line.”

In British Columbia, a transformative process is already underway to introduce promoted jobs to elementary school students. Provincial politicians have launched a “Find Your Fit” tour in partnership with the government’s WorkBC that sees students between Grades 5 and 10 exploring a variety of in-demand occupations through an interactive job fair scenario.

The program is part of the province’s Skills for Jobs Blueprint that is meant to match labour market requirements with future graduates’ skill sets.

“There’s expected to be nearly one million job openings in B.C. by 2025,” said Abbotsford MLA Darryl Plecas.

“Programs like Find Your Fit are taking the steps needed to ensure we have an educated and skilled workforce ready to meet that demand.”

Closing the gap

Closing the perceived gap between educators and employers has always been high on colleges’ to-do list, said Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario in Toronto.

“Addressing that exact gap is why colleges were invented, really,” she said. “We spend an awful lot of time with employers, talking about those issues. We have industry advisory committees for every area that we train in.”

These committees are made up of business experts who work to ensure the post-secondary curriculum is consistently updated and revised in order to hit desired targets in terms of skills and job-readiness, said Franklin.

“It’s a complicated discussion,” she said. “On the one hand, employers will say to us: ‘Well, we need students that have more soft skills, better communication skills, team-building skills’ and so forth.”

“And so, over the last few years, we’ve added more and more experiential learning to our programs, so students are in workplaces, learning those types of skills from the ground up.”

But, at the same time, employers want students with job-ready hard skills, said Franklin, acknowledging that negative industry feedback is always present, despite colleges’ best efforts.

“That’s where there’s sometimes a challenge with employers’ engagement,” she said. “Over the years, companies are spending less and less on training and development. That’s requiring the college system, particularly, to do more and more.”

If training is going to become the duty of post-secondary institutions, businesses will need to become much more engaged in the process of work-integrated learning opportunities, said Franklin.

“There will have to be a growing understanding that you can train students to be terrific in a particular field or profession, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that as an employer, you can hire them and have them trained specifically to your shop floor,” she said.

“Where we’re going to have to get to is a higher level of engagement between employers, students and the colleges going forward, particularly around the area of experiential learning.”

“If nothing else, that constant churning and changing of the economy, upgrading of need for skills and advancement of business technology is always going to mean we’re working to close that gap to make sure that our students are ahead of the curve in the economy.”

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