Is Your Mentee Prepared for Life?

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 12.42.26 PMBy Ben Carpenter, reprinted from the New York Times

As 16 million young adults set off for college this fall, they are looking at some frightening statistics. Despite the ever-rising cost of getting a degree, one number stands out like a person shouting in a campus library: According to a recent poll conducted by AfterCollege, an online entry-level job site, 83 percent of college seniors graduated without a job this spring. Even when these young people finally do get jobs, the positions are often part time, low wage or not related to their career interests. The problem isn’t the quality of higher education in the United States, so what’s missing?

Two years ago, in a full-blown panic, I asked myself this exact question when I realized that my eldest daughter, a recent college graduate, had no idea what the world was about to demand of her. She had gone to a good school and done well as a student, but had never thought about her future in a structured way, and I realized what she was missing — an education in career training.

While “career training” may sound vague, if done properly it is straightforward and teaches how to get, and succeed at, a job. At most colleges this training falls under the purview of Career Services; however, there is a major disconnect between many students and this department. Earlier this year, a consulting firm, Millennial Branding, surveyed over 4,000 students and found that 61 percent said Career Services was “never” or “rarely” effective in helping them land a job.

So what can be done to make certain these young adults are being prepared for life post-graduation? The answer is simple: Colleges need to create, and require for graduation, a course in career training that would begin freshman year and end senior year.

Career training must start early because getting students to decide what job they want — and teaching them how to thoroughly research that job, get internships and conduct a job search for a full-time position — is not a quick or easy task. This course would ask students to consider their skills and interests. What are they good at? What do they like to do? Then students would be taught how to thoroughly research the industries and jobs that utilize their talents. The best way to do this is by arranging dozens of one-on-one informational interviews with contacts generated from family, friends and their school’s alumni database.

In these interviews they would learn if the jobs they are pursuing are right for them, and they would make contacts to help them eventually land a good job.

One liberal arts school, Connecticut College, offers substantial financial incentives to students who participate in its career-training program, and most students participate. One year after graduation, 96 percent of all Connecticut College alumni report that they are employed or in graduate school. Not surprisingly, this program has become a major selling point for the school.

Career training is also an issue of equal opportunity. Some students receive advice and professional contacts at home, but some receive nothing. Comprehensive career-training would help level the playing field.

Back in the day, I received little career training in college and that was consistent with everyone I knew — regardless of where they went to school. However, the world today has become so competitive and global that we must provide our children with high-quality career training as a bridge from college to the work world.

Ben Carpenter is the vice chairman of CRT Capital Group and the author of “The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals.”  A version of this op-ed appears in print on September 1, 2014, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Is Your Student Prepared for Life?.