U.S. universities are offering special handouts, workshops, and even how-to dinners to help prepare new graduates for the world of work, fearing that years of disrupted education—including a hasty shift to remote learning in the early months of the COVID pandemic—has left students short on office etiquette and soft skills.
Universities are not alone in this fear. Students are also worried about office life and the shift in expectations between academia and the workforce. Fresh graduates shared these concerns about how to work with colleagues, deliver in-person presentations, and build a personal network to the Wall Street Journal. One student even noted his surprise at finding office deadlines were harder to extend than those set for a college assignment.
Colleges are trying to help. Michigan State University asks companies to give explicit guidance on a hire’s first day, including what to wear and where to get lunch, reports the Wall Street Journal. The school also gives students tips on how to handle a networking conversation—including how to look for signs that the other party is starting to get bored, and that it’s time to move on.
Miami University even organized a dinner with senior leaders in order to teach proper mealtime etiquette, one recent graduate from the Ohio-based school told the Wall Street Journal. Among the advice: how quickly to eat, how to politely butter your bread, and how to engage in conversation on neutral topics.
Companies are also giving new graduates extra training to get them up to speed.
Earlier this year, the U.K. arms of Deloitte and PwC said they would give their hires extra training on presentations and interacting in meetings.
“There is a greater need for employers to provide training on basic professional and working skills that wasn’t necessary in prior years,” Jackie Henry, Deloitte’s U.K. managing partner for people and purpose, told the Financial Times. “Many [new employees] are used to working in an isolated way, so struggle with teamwork.”
It’s not just Americans and Europeans who are worried about the return to regular office life. One “smile coach” in Japan told the New York Times that her business was booming after the government relaxed its guidance on wearing face masks earlier this year.
Some CEOs, like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, now believe new hires need some in-person office time to get the skills they need.
“Engineers who either joined Meta in person and then transferred to remote or remained in person performed better on average than people who joined remotely,” Zuckerberg wrote in a memo earlier this year. (Meta will mandate three days of office time each week, starting in September.)
It’s not yet clear whether remote education during the pandemic led to worse educational outcomes overall.
In higher education, online education may work better for large introductory courses, while the lack of face-to-face discussion hurts smaller classes, according to a survey of students at the City College of New York published at the end of 2021.
The data is less positive for younger students. Pandemic-era students report lower scores in reading and math than their pre-pandemic counterparts, with larger declines for students with longer periods of online classes. Yet even students with only brief periods of remote learning performed worse.
Still, Gen Z’s experience with remote education might have made them more willing to work in an office than their slightly older colleagues.
Younger workers generally report a greater preference for in-person work than their millennial counterparts. Almost 90% of Gen Z employees who want to work in an office cite greater productivity, according to an April report from Morning Consult.
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