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Understanding and dealing with your ‘Next-Gen’ employees

Our recent college graduates are not ready for the workplace.

That’s not an opinion; that’s a statement of fact.

Employers say so, college career center staff say so, and even the recent graduates themselves say so. And this couldn’t come at a worse time.

According to a Rutgers study, only 51 percent of students who graduated from a four-year program within the past five years have full-time jobs. It is more important than ever that these young people learn how to become productive and valued members of their companies.

The problem is that they don’t have the “soft skills” needed to be successful employees.

According to a 2012 study by the Center for Professional Excellence at the York College of Pennsylvania, HR professionals and supervising managers listed the areas where they say the biggest gaps between what they expected, and what they are getting from new hires.

Top of the list was “sense of ethics,” followed by “accepts personal responsibility for their decisions and actions” and “competent verbal and written communication.”

It is also worth noting that the number one factor in the firing of new employees is poor attendance.

For those of us from an older generation, it’s a bit of a mystery why these young people behave the way that they do. Granted, there are always exceptions, but in general, they have never been taught otherwise.

As Arthur Levine and Diane Dean point out in their book, Generation on a Tightrope, these people are the first natives of a digital world that the rest of us have come to as immigrants.

They have not known a world without cell phones, or personal computers, or the Internet. They text and tweet constantly, so that they are never out of touch from friends and family. As a result, they don’t need to make new friends as much, and their social skills suffer.

Digital communications is as natural to them as the spoken word – or maybe even more natural – and they often find comfort in text messaging because they feel less exposed than when in face-to-face confrontations. They have not been required to communicate effectively either in writing or in person.

They remain in close contact with their parents, who continue to mediate on their behalf long past the traditional age of adolescence. They don’t see a separation between work and personal life, and so choose to make inappropriate use of their time at work.

So what is an employer to do?

In the short term, learn that you must take action to fill the holes in the skill sets of your new hires. Make time management training available. Take the time to explain standard workplace etiquette and procedures; much of this basic information will come as news to them.

And take a longer view as well.

Work with local colleges to help them make written and verbal communication – as well as other vital “soft skills” – a valued part of campus-wide goals, and not just left for the career centers to cover with a workshop band-aid.

We need our next generation of workers, and we need to pull together to prepare them to take their place as successful and valued members of the workforce.

Alfred Poor, PhD, is a speaker and the author of “7 Success Secrets That Every College Student Needs to Know!” As a member of the National Association of Colleges and Employers in Bethlehem, he speaks to college and corporate audiences on career skills topics. He can be reached at alfred@alfredpoor.

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