Gone are the days when seeking diverse talent, translated to “hire a Black person.” I hate to be so blunt, but it is the reality. Employers are looking for new grad talent with the professional preparation to succeed.
The percentage of American college students who are Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, and American Indian/Alaska Native has been increasing steadily over the years. For example between 1976 and 2011, the percentage of Black students rose from 10 to 15% according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Although the growth in the Black college population is significant, the growth of Hispanic students from 4 to 14% and for Asian student from 2 to 6%, is also very impressive going
One way we should be viewing this data is that there will be greater competition among graduates to get into companies that are actively seeking diverse talent.
What Black students must do before graduation to be competitive
Black students who want to seriously compete for career positions within major organizations must do three things:
Black students must do internships and co-ops to build experiences on non-trivial, outside-the-classroom projects. Ideally, at least 2 such experiences before graduation are important to see on a resume. According to US News survey, only about 37% of college students in 2012 completed internships. That is already low and having worked in higher education for 15 years, I know that the subset of Black students doing internships is smaller than we would like.
Black students must do study abroad and expand their international exposure. Several HBCU’s are pumping up their study abroad programs. International programs on majority campuses, are reaching out to diverse students. Studies show that of the students who study abroad, African American students number about 4%. Organizations, like IERCEF, through the consortium of 11 HBCU’s, is trying to do something about increasing these numbers. At The HBCU Career Center, we feature monthly columns by J. Renay Loper, on Study Abroad news because it is so important.
Finally, another thing Black students must do before graduation is gain leadership experience. This is the #1 skill or behavior that employers say they want and look for in new graduates. It doesn’t matter much whether the goal after graduation is employment, graduate school or entrepreneurship. Black college students must develop leadership skills and there are plenty of opportunities to do so on campus. This annual study lists the skills employers want from new graduates and is published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. For years this list has included strong communication skills and leadership skills as top requirements from employers. Developing both sets of skills will give graduates a strong competitive advantage.
I understand the lack of resources for career programs and career centers on college campuses. However, I don’t see educating Black students about their competitive advantage as just the responsibility of campus career offices. I believe this has to be the subject of broader discussions between college leadership, parents and industry professionals. When more people are questioning the costs versus value of a college degree while our students are racking up financial aid debt, it would be a shame if our students don’t hear the message about what is required to compete.