What Do Pioneer Valley Employers Value in Recent Hires?

August 4, 2016

That was the focus of a Spring 2016 survey conducted by Greenfield Community College. Over 125 businesses, municipalities, non-profit organizations, and schools weighed in on the college learning outcomes they value the most. The survey, modeled after a national study conducted by Hart Research Associates on behalf of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U), was sent to Pioneer Valley employers on the Franklin County, Northampton, and Amherst Chamber of Commerce member lists. It presented 17 distinct skill and knowledge areas and asked respondents to indicate how important it is that the new college graduates they employ exhibit proficiency in each.

The results: At least four out of five respondents said they want new hires to have:

  • The ability to effectively communicate orally
  • Ethical judgment and decision-making
  • The ability to work effectively with others in teams
  • The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills

Employers, large and small, report placing high value on these skills when hiring recent college graduates.

How and where do people develop these competencies? Not confined to a particular college program of study, they are skills that cut across majors and are cumulative learning outcomes that result from the totality of one’s college experience.

GCC emphasizes the development of the whole student and the value of a broad education. A liberal arts foundation in the curriculum is evident in the general education courses embedded in most degree programs, and in the General Education Abilities, a map of liberal education skills against which all programs are assessed annually. All of the outcomes identified by Pioneer Valley employers as very important are reflected in the College’s General Education Abilities.

Recently, GCC students participated in the national Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) and were asked how much their experience at the College has contributed to their knowledge, skills, and personal development in a number of areas similar to those on the employer survey. A majority of respondents indicated that their time at GCC has contributed “quite a bit” or “very much” to their abilities to write and speak clearly and effectively, think critically and analytically, and work effectively with others.

            Marie S. Breheny, GCC’s Director of Assessment, commented on the survey results, saying “The findings from this local survey of Pioneer Valley employers were very similar to those obtained through the AAC&U’s larger effort. The ongoing national debate about the purpose of a college education is often presented in terms of conflicting viewpoints, with some believing that college is primarily for the development of a person and others believing that it is primarily to get a job. Following from that argument are questions about the value of various courses of study. The results from these surveys show no such conflict, as the outcomes from a broad education that that contribute to the development of a well-rounded individual are also highly valued by employers. In short, a liberal arts education that fosters communication, ethics, critical thinking, teamwork, and the application of knowledge to real world settings prepares students for success in employment and success in life.”

GCC President Bob Pura said, “Greenfield Community College thanks employers in the Pioneer Valley for their participation in this effort. Input such as this helps the College understand how issues in higher education that garner national attention play out at the local level. GCC will use this information to inform its programming and planning so as to best serve students while being responsive to the needs of area employers and the community.”

Additional Information:

For information about the AAC&U Survey, see:

Hart Research Associates. “Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success.” Association of American Colleges & Universities. 20 Jan. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

 Specific GCC/Pioneer Valley Survey Results

Modeled on the AAC&U’s method of categorizing results, skills and knowledge areas that were deemed very important by at least four out of five respondents were classified as the Most Important Learning Outcomes to Pioneer Valley employers.

Skill/ Knowledge Area Percentage of Pioneer Valley employers who rate it as Very Important
The ability to effectively communicate orally 92%
Ethical judgment and decision-making 91%
The ability to work effectively with others in teams 90%
The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings 88%
Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills 84%

Skills and knowledge areas that were deemed very important by approximately half to three quarters of employers in the Pioneer Valley were classified as Moderately Important Learning Outcomes.

Skill /Knowledge Area Percentage of Pioneer Valley employers who rate it as Very Important
The ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources 73%
The ability to effectively communicate in writing 71%
The ability to analyze and solve complex problems 64%
The ability to innovate and be creative 64%
The ability to analyze and solve problems with people from different backgrounds & cultures 64%
Staying current on changing technologies and their applications to the workplace 60%
Awareness of and experience with diverse cultures and communities within the United States 51%
The ability to work with numbers and understand statistics 49%

Finally those areas that were deemed very important by a third or fewer employers are classified as Less Important to area employers.

Skill /Knowledge Area Percentage of Pioneer Valley employers who rate it as Very Important
Awareness of and experience with cultures & societies outside of the United States 33%
Staying current on global developments and trends 21%
Staying current on developments in science 20%
Proficiency in a language other than English 13%

By Mary McClintock, ’82

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