Underemployed

In May 2013, McKinsey & Company and Chegg Inc. released a stunning report on the state of recent college graduates, called Voice of the Graduate. This report has a number of compelling findings, which we feel compelled to explore and start a dialogue about. In today’s post, we’ll focus on the underemployment crisis facing recent U.S. college graduates.

Perhaps the most surprising finding from McKinsey’s report is that 45% of recent college graduates they surveyed are currently employed in jobs that do not require a college degree. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (UBLS) recently also published a similar statistic that reports that 48% of college graduates are in jobs that don’t require a 4-year college degree. And the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently hosted a press briefing that reports 46% of college graduates between the ages of 22-27 are underemployed. Whatever the actual number is, it’s really high.

This is a complicated issue, and there’s no single solution. Rather than seeing this as a problem though, we see it as an opportunity – how can we help that 45-48% of college graduates who are underemployed get jobs in the fields they want to get into? And how can we help the percentage of future grads who are underemployed go down, eventually to 0%? Here are three solutions that will help us realize this opportunity:

    1. Make career preparation mandatory at all colleges: currently career counseling is treated as an option at most universities. This results in many college students not taking advantage of their career centers. In fact, out of the 4,900 college graduates surveyed by McKinsey, only 37% of students at the Top 100 universities used their career center, and the number is even worse at other colleges, where only 25% of students used their career centers. Making a career preparation course or program mandatory would require all college students to have at least some exposure to their career center.
    2. Parents, high schools and colleges must educate students on related careers when selecting a school and major: while liberal arts degrees have a lot of merit, students should go into these majors with eyes wide open, and right now they aren’t. The underemployment problem is even more dramatic with liberal arts degrees. According to the McKinsey study, liberal arts and performing arts graduates tend to be lower paid, deeper in debt, less happily employed, when compared to the average college graduate. And 41% of visual and performing arts grads and 39% of liberal arts grads report (after they’ve already graduated) they wish they had chosen different majors.
    3. Students should not use a “DIY” approach in their job search: just as students seek help from expert college admissions counselors and SAT/ACT courses to get into a great college, they should seek help from professionals in their job search who have expertise and experience in career planning. Most students don’t do that – according to McKinsey, 61% of students rely exclusively on themselves, family, friends and internet advice in their job search. While we encourage students to talk to friends and family in their job search, it’s important that they also work with professionals, like university career centers and private career consultants, who can help with navigating the job market and build the career preparation skills to land their dream jobs.

What are your thoughts on the underemployment crisis, and what can be done about it?