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The Road Best Travelled

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
– Albert Einstein

I’m sure our institutions of higher learning may take Einstein to task on his opinion given that they are in the “knowledge” business. If he were alive, he may elaborate on his statement by saying that until an education is put to work, its value is in question.

A study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education in the Workforce titled Not All College Degrees are Created Equal seeks to answer that very question. As the study states, “The question, as we slowly dig out from under the wreckage left by the Great Recession, is unavoidable: IS COLLEGE WORTH IT?” While the study answers with a resounding “YES”, it also shows the importance of workplace experience, something colleges and universities seek to provide their students.

Data from the Center’s study in the table below indicate the value of experience, and why “rapid on-boarding” (flattening the learning curve) is a priority for recruiters. Mellon Financial Corporation conducted a study that found the cost of lost productivity due to learning curves somewhere between 1 percent and 2.5 percent of total revenue.

Every new hire faces a learning curve, so ignoring it is ludicrous. The impact of some factors (e.g., employee relocation, corporate environment, co-workers) is difficult to gauge or predict. There are other factors, however, that are more readily managed. A student’s grades and coursework demonstrate their command of their discipline. Their expertise in industry technology displays their mastery of the “tools of the trade”. A thorough interview can reveal an applicant’s knowledge of their prospective field as well as their specific responsibilities. Whatever the case, matching the right person to the right job is no simple task. I’m reminded of a T-shirt I saw that said: “I lied to get this job. They lied about the job. We’re even.” Humorous maybe, but it describes an expensive mistake for both the applicant and the recruiter.

Where does the university fit into the process? In a word: preparation. All that is available to students should be adequately preparing them for the workplace whether it’s curriculum, career centers or facilities. The “purpose” of universities may be knowledge, but their “business” is having that knowledge applied. Those universities that proudly point out their graduate placement are those who understand what their students need to succeed.

Applying These Principles: A Case Study

Among the universities that partner with Trading Technologies, I have seen a number of talented students who made a smooth transition from college to the workplace. I thought it would be interesting to get their feedback on what is special about their schools that helped their market value.

Josh Yomtoob says hands-on experience with X_TRADER®
while attending University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
helped him secure a job. He’ll graduate in May.

Josh Yomtoob will graduate from the business school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor of Science in Finance with a minor in Computer Science in May 2013. He is in the enviable position of having a job ready for him when he graduates this spring. Josh will begin his career as an energy analyst. Josh took advantage of all that was available to him from his university, so the credit goes to him. But the question is: What was available to him, and what did he think made a difference as he prepared for the workplace?

School Reputation: While it is not necessarily the most important, a school with a great reputation will attract the big companies. That doesn’t mean you have no chance if you go to a school that isn’t a top-ten university. Josh felt a “Top 10” reputation is nice but not necessary. After all it’s what the student does with the education that determines long term success.

Curriculum: Josh felt that the curriculum the school provided was firmly rooted in the textbook, but brought in what he would experience on the job. In many cases, guest lecturers and real-market case studies helped demonstrate how theory is applied. This helped prepare him in applying what he learned to what he would do.

Facilities: Trading labs that replicate the workplace environment and software give students practical and relevant experience with the very tools they will be using on the job. I was happy to hear that our X_TRADER software at the University of Illinois will also be used by Josh when he begins his job this spring.

Corporate Experience: Josh took advantage of opportunities to connect with potential employers. Illinois provided corporate events that he used to learn about companies and build networking contacts. These in turn grew into “job shadow” opportunities and internships. In Josh’s case, it led him to employment. This minimized the mystery for both the student and the company. When all was said and done, each felt they had found a good fit for their needs.

A number of students I have met followed the same path as Josh, so these observations may seem obvious. Yet there are still schools that lack what is necessary to prepare their graduates for employment. But let’s not saddle the university with all the blame. In many cases, students begin their quest for employment in senior year, which, in my opinion, is three years too late. I never enjoyed the interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” but it accurately reflects how students should approach their education. If they desire employment after college, they should begin by understanding where they want to be, what they need to get there and the school that will provide it.

Posted by: Leo Murphy, TT CampusConnect™ Program Manager

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