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Why so many College Graduates are Unemployed or Underemployed?

You spent many years at school, did countless homework assignments, worked (really) hard and one fine day, did finally complete your education and became a college graduate.

You had always believed that this long journey would somehow come to a happy and satisfactory end with a high paying job at the career outset, fantastic future growth prospects, and a whole lot more.

Just when every scattered piece was supposed to fall in place, you have a bitter face off with ‘job scarcity’ you didn’t know even existed till now.   You find yourself as one of the many college graduates who are unemployed or underemployed due to lack of experience.   Here is some alarming information on unemployment and underemployment.

Unemployment rate of college Graduates


IT college graduates are also feeling the crunch.  You thought the IT industry was taking over the world and you were destined to be one of the many champions to partake in the growth story.

The worldwide IT industry was growing and will continue on the growth path for a very long time. Then why is that you have a college degree and a student loan debt to deal with while the signs of a rewarding career are nowhere in sight?

What went wrong?

While you may be someone who’s still planning on pursuing a college degree, are currently studying at a college or have already graduated, it is important to gain some perspective on the subject of underemployment.

There’s always a way out but first, you have to be willing to accept the problem, dissect it and take steps necessary to set things right.

Unemployment and Underemployment for IT College Graduates.

What happens when you graduate from college with a degree in let’s say networking or information systems but remain unemployed or underemployed?

In all probability, the root cause is probably your lack of experience, coupled with a broad range of IT knowledge minus any specialization. This discord in knowledge and experience makes it very difficult to qualify for a well paying job.

Ironically, many colleges offering degree programs in IT and related streams follow a curriculum that directly promotes this discord. From basic computer courses and Microsoft Office to A+, networking, Microsoft Servers, Cisco Routers, database management, project management and dozens of other subjects, these college  programs attempt to teach you ‘everything.’

A wide range of platforms and technologies are taught in a highly condensed time frame.  Back-to-back courses are covered in as just 10-20 weeks, with many receiving as little as 3 hours per week.

Most college programs are theory based. Only a handful of subjects are taught in a manner that students are exposed to minimal hands-on “simulated” experience, far from real world experience required by employers.

To make the matters worse, several other subjects such as English, History, Philosophy, etc. are also taught that takes more time away form IT.

The workload for an Information Technology student is quite heavy. Juggling between multiple projects and assignments, most of them are not even distantly related to IT, such a student is just short on time to learn each technology or platform (and there are too many) in the curriculum like a pro.

As soon as a college semester/quarter ends and there it is – a new technology and whole new bunch of unrelated subjects. Between writing papers and preparing for quizzes & tests, the students are just rushed through the IT curriculum.  All these contribute to the unemployment and under employment of college graduates.

Lack of Focus – Root Cause of Unemployment & Under Employment

The next big problem is that the IT curriculum is far from being focused or complete.

Take the case of an IT program revolving around the networking field. It should ideally be a specialized program but the truth is that there is a fundamental curriculum design problem.

Right after a freshman attends the first ‘An Introduction to Computers’ class, followed by few more on computing basics, he is hurriedly placed in the A+ certification course. The course is going to be wrapped up in just 40-60 hours.

Speedy knowledge delivery should be great, right?

No. It isn’t.

Not when it’s Information Technology; you need to acquire actual problem solving skills.

[Read: Why A+ Certification in 60 Hours for Career Change Doesn’t Really Work]

As if the mindless 60 hours race wasn’t enough, subsequent rushed attempts are made to quickly train a college student. They are taught one high-end technology after another, without any consideration for the fact that college students won’t even meet the minimum requirements to apply for relevant jobs due to their lack of experience.

Personally, I have seen college students go swiftly from A+ Certification course to Windows Servers followed by a Cisco Router course in as little as 30 weeks (roughly 150 hours) of classroom education.

The case in point here is that students go from being trained on how to turn on a computer to connecting hundreds of computers together, securing them and then connecting wide area networks across the world – all in a time frame shorter than a year.

One year may seem like a lot of time but it’s barely enough to master even a single technology platform.

The whole exercise smells of a fundamentally wrong approach to IT education delivery; it would take no particular brains to tell blue from red. No wonder this chart explains why so many college graduates in IT are working in places that don’t require a college degree. Employers value experience far more than just a college degree in the Information Technology field.

employment outcome major

College Graduate –  Jack of All Trades, Master of None

AT Career Change Training Center, we  spend a minimum of six months helping our career change students to specialize in desktop support level skills.  It will still take 1.5 – 2 years for them to master those skills.  After 2 years of desktop support experience, we recommend server technologies and relevant certifications.

Many college students, however, are being taught different subjects to help them acquire desktop support, server and Cisco skills in a very short span of time.

They are exposed to a multitude of technologies in the IT field but never offered an opportunity to master just one (if not more).

College Students can narrate the outline of many subjects by the time they graduate but they cannot do anything worthwhile in any of the technologies they’ve merely looked at from a distance.

If you check CCNA or Microsoft Server related job listings on Careerbuilder.com or elsewhere, you will notice that the minimum requirements for most of the vacant positions is 2 – 3 years of real world experience.

Many college graduates with IT degrees in hand will just be unfit for such roles simply due to lack of experience.

For most of the fresh graduates beginning a new career in the IT support field, Server Admin and Cisco Admin jobs are hard to come by for at least 2 – 3 years.

This is precisely the reason why fresh college graduates are often unemployed or underemployed.

Such an outcome is only natural given the fact that the program is not designed to produce highly skilled IT professionals. IT degrees are creating professionals who lack direction, confidence and specialized knowledge.

But, There are Exceptions, You May Argue

Yes, of course. There are some real good reasons why some students do really well after completing college education in IT.

These are the students who are in love with everything IT. They are curious to learn about computers, networks, servers and everything else they find exciting.

These students are naturally inclined to learn & experience. They spend time reading blogs and tutorials on technology, learn something new every day, setup their own servers, networks or routers, scan through forums, consult specialists on the Internet and do everything necessary to keep the fire burning. Techies at heart, such passionate students will no doubt excel in just about any IT related program no matter how flawed it is. These students clearly don’t have a lack of experience problem.

Their success is not because of the IT program but despite it.

What about the Rest?

Most students who needed that extra help and never really “got it,” have a difficult time finding employment with the type of education and training they were exposed to.

They may have secured good grades but they clearly don’t have their skills sharpened to meet the needs of hiring managers.  This is not their fault but the simply due to the way the IT program is designed.

Not just the minimum skillset, these students are very low on confidence too. Since they have never had those ‘been there, done that’ moments, they are never 100% sure of successfully working on a platform or technology.

In the past, we have hosted an internship program for a college through our consulting business. I’d prefer not to name the college but the experience I had was nothing short of appalling.

During the internship program, college students came to work at our live computer service center. They were in the final semester and wanted to gain some real world experience.  These interns were about to complete an IT degree program as networking professionals.

We were surprised to learn that many of them had never taken a laptop apart, couldn’t clone a computer system, knew nothing about configuring email clients for various services and so on.  The students lacked the most basic desktop support level skills.

Some of these students were graduating with significant student loan debt. To us, it was alarming.

As an IT employer, I would never hire someone who cannot perform the most basic day-to-day duties of an entry level technician.

“Where are these young kids headed” I wondered.

When I was done speaking to most of the interns, I learnt that they had worked on Cisco and Windows Servers in their class but needed more practice. Fair enough. But a profession in Cisco and Server support is naturally a career stage that comes (few years) after a desktop support level.  The interns couldn’t even do the basic desktop support level job with skills they had.

Silver Lining

As for the exceptions, I recall one intern from the same college who was very knowledgeable. He told me that he always had this powerful inclination for information technology. To him, it was a hobby.

A student from the same college, exposed to the same training curriculum but I could tell within the first hour that he did know his stuff.  That is the difference.

There are many IT students who graduate with a college degree and do really well simply because they love IT.  They look at homework or practice as a fun activity instead of a monotonous task they have to do away with.

Such students often need to put in the TIME outside of class to have a more complete skillset that employers demand in today’s competitive economy.

I would have definitely hired this intern for a job without any reservations.

The college graduates have a great base on which they can lay the foundation of a successful career. But, they remain stuck often due to lack of  experience and specialization in any particular technology.

If they take the time to focus on one job role, they would find success very easily.  Most networking IT graduates end up starting a job at the Desktop / Helpdesk support level.  I would recommend strengthening those skills to excel at their job and gradually move up to server based technologies/

The Bottom Line

Pick a role in Information Technology and learn it really well. I would recommend a minimum of six months of practice; practical experience is a great start.  Master the subject matter and employers will notice your confidence within minutes.

If you are an unemployed or underemployed college graduate and want the right training that can help you qualify for a great job.   Please get in touch with me at rlamba@careerchangetraining.com.   I have helped countless friends, family and students start a successful career in IT.

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