A student works hard at university, attends every lecture, prepares well for exams and earns top grades. Then is overlooked for a job interview because a prospective employer ignores university marks when hiring graduates.
National Australia Bank is the latest to dismiss academic performance in its graduate intake. PwC Australia last year said it would no longer assess job graduates on their university grade point average (GPA). Expect more companies to do the same in the next few years.
No employer should hire graduates on GPA alone. A top student can still have weak problem-solving or teamwork skills. They might struggle to adapt, lack creativity and have low emotional intelligence. Or not have the personality to influence and lead others. Grades are not everything.
That’s why smart employers look beyond a student’s GPA. They want evidence of internships, student associations, part-time jobs and other extra-curricular activities that show a well-rounded graduate. They want to know the student has so-called ‘soft skills’, such as communication.
But grades must be part of the mix. A devaluation of university marks among large employers, should it continue, should set off alarm bells in industry and academia.
Why not just give a degree to anyone who pays for it and shows up for the training? Better still, let’s turn degrees into prize for every child who competes, regardless of merit, and forget about developing resilience in young people.
Being academically smart should mean something. I wonder if employers would happily hire someone who interviewed well but had low marks and failed several subjects. And how far will that graduate’s soft skills take them in their career?
Universities deserve part of the blame in the devaluation of grades. Although it’s hard to prove, “soft marking” is endemic in some courses that funnel students through each year. Sadly, it’s too bureaucratic and time-consuming for lecturers to fail enough students, to maintain standards.
Some universities need to increase their financial resources for assessing exams and assignments, so markers can spend more time on them and give feedback to students.
A lack of university innovation in assessment is another factor. Too many courses are still based on old-fashioned assignments and exams, a model that has barely changed in a century. There hasn’t been enough progress in assessing skills that employers want – at enough universities.
More courses should have internships and opportunities for integrated industry learning. Group projects, which have their limitations, can show capacity for teamwork. Greater emphasis on presentations can enhance communication skills and assessed bootcamps and the like can show employers how students perform under pressure in unexpected situations.
My point is: if employers value soft skills so much, they should work with universities to integrate them into courses and assess them. Employers should know a student who gets a top mark in course X, Y or Z needs more than technical competence. They should feel confident the academic achievers have other skills the organisation needs.
I’ve seen the benefits of this approach first-hand. The entrepreneurship course I taught at university emphasised group work, creativity and presentations. Academic students who were great with textbooks but struggled to sell themselves or an idea, achieved average marks. Some entrepreneurs who were not academically gifted blitzed the course.
It’s all about balance. Graduates need a mix of hard technical skills, measured through university grades, and soft skills that are developed through their studies and extracurricular activities.
Taking grades out the equation is setting the organisation’s future talent pool up to fail.