APLU Releases Reports Identifying 11 Critical Employability Skills Gaps for Graduates

More than 11,000 Employers, Faculty, Alumni and Students Were Part of the Survey Identifying Critical Growth Areas for Students Today

Pat Crawford
Pat Crawford

Pat Crawford, director of South Dakota State University’s School of Design, was the co-principal investigator and author of two reports on employability skills, released today by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.

Crawford worked with Wendy Fink, APLU’s executive director for its academic programs section, on the latest reports and one in 2011. The reports released today are “From Academia to the Workforce: Critical Growth Areas for Students Today” and “From Academia to the Workforce: Navigating Persistence, Ambiguity, Change and Conflict in the Workplace.” Both reports and an executive summary are part of the APLU series on employability skills in agriculture and natural resources.

The 2011 study ranked the importance of 42 employability skills by employers, faculty, alumni and students. Building off this work, 11 skills were selected to explore the gap between importance and preparedness of new graduates.

The APLU fielded this latest survey in 2018-2019 through 31 participating universities and partner organizations. The 11,000-plus stakeholders were asked to rate how important a skill was, rate how prepared students were in that skill, and to identify what activities outside the classroom most contributed to learning these skills. They then were asked to answer four open-ended questions around how to better prepare students for navigating ambiguity, change, persistence and conflict in the workplace.

“As faculty, we can help the students make the connections with how their coursework and extracurricular activities build employability skills,” Crawford said. “While we know students today enter college with different life experiences than when we did, we also can’t assume they know how to navigate their transition into the workplace.

“An important key is opening the conversation and letting students know that things will be ambiguous, there will be change and there will be conflict. These are normal,” she continued. “Keeping a positive attitude, doing what is asked, and continuing to learn are important for career success.”

Crawford enlisted nine individuals from SDSU to help analyze the findings. They were: Gemechis Djira, associate professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics; Jana Hanson, director of Institutional Assessment/interim director of Institutional Research; Karla Hunter, associate professor, School of Communication and Journalism; Don Marshall, professor and associate dean, College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences; Kyle Page, former assistant professor, Department of Sociology and Rural Studies; Robin Rhoads, research writer, School of Design; Duncan Schwartz, student, sociology; Mark Stemwedel, studio art lecturer, School of Design; and Marisa Ten Brink, graphic design instructor, School of Design.

“We met for more than a year not only looking at the quantitative data but also the qualitative data, to interpret and distill what the stakeholders were telling us,” Crawford said. In the final reports, key takeaways are presented that faculty and employers can use to help students navigate their way into the workforce.

APLU’s Academic Programs Section commissioned the series of reports. APS is part of the Board on Agriculture Assembly, an organization of college of agriculture administrators within APLU.