Confusion about credentials and work readiness


Uncertainty among recent graduates regarding whether their college credential or trade certification truly indicates that they have the skills employers seek could be swaying roughly half of them from even applying for entry-level jobs in their field because they don’t feel prepared for them, according to a new report.

The Cengage Group’s research on traditional degree graduates ( associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees) and non-degree graduates (vocational and certification programs) found that confusion about the marketability around their skills creates a barrier to their employability.

“Graduates in both streams are self-selecting out of potential entry-level opportunities, with 53% of traditional degree graduates and 49% of non-degree graduates saying they had not applied to an entry-level job in their field because they felt underqualified,” the report says.

The findings are based on a Cengage survey last month of 1,000 U.S. respondents ages 18-54+ with a household income level up to $150,000.

Stigma on multiple fronts

Among grads with traditional degrees, just two out of every five (41%) think a college degree signals they have or will have the skills needed by employers, the report says. Among non-degree grads, 49% felt a skills training credential adequately indicates the skills they have. In addition, one-third of all grads said they didn’t know their program’s placement rate.

The cost of traditional college, coupled with the stigma associated with not attaining a traditional degree, could be fueling much of the confusion, the report notes. There’s the stigma felt among parents and educators toward career and technical education, even though a growing number of Generation Z learners believe there are other ways to get a good education besides a traditional degree, it says, adding that better outreach and awareness about alternative education approaches would help.

Employers themselves often play into the stigma, the report continues.

“There’s employer legacy bias of requiring candidates to have traditional degrees regardless of how relevant it is to the role,” the report says, noting that employers could play a critical role in educating and influencing the conversation about postsecondary education and workplace preparedness.

A chance to draw more applicants

The report observes that employers could draw more interest and job applicants if they provided and paid for training.

“Graduates are interested in workforce development, with 95% saying that if their employer covered the cost of online training and credential programs, they would pursue it, creating a significant and currently underleveraged talent pool,” it says.

This is notable as the report cites that some job descriptions may discourage new graduates for applying. Nearly four in 10 grads (39%) felt underqualified because they had some but not all the skills listed in a job description. About one-quarter (23%) indicated it was because they didn’t have relevant real-world work experience or employability skills related to the role.

“As employers struggle to fill roles, this presents a sizeable opportunity for employers to upskill potential candidates who might have a good base of skills but need further development,” the report says.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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