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When a significant number of U.S. labor force can’t find work, it’s a drag on the entire economy.

October 10, 2015

According to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study, the U.S. unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds, the age when many have recently left college and are entering the workforce, is nearly twice that of 25- to 34-year-olds. That eye-opening statistic is particularly timely now as many students across the U.S. have recently graduated from college and are looking for jobs.

When a significant number of the U.S. economy’s largest labor force can’t find work, it’s a drag on our entire economy. The global business landscape has changed and the way we prepare our young people for work needs to change with it. On college campuses and in corporate boardrooms across America, we need to look in the mirror and start asking how we can change the dialogue and fix the problem. This conversation is overdue.

Here are five steps colleges and businesses can take to better prepare recent graduates for the workplace:

Colleges should blend classroom teaching and hands-on learning
On-campus clubs. Intercollegiate sports teams. Study abroad programs. Students who pair these types of hands-on experiences with in-classroom learning double their chances of being better prepared for and engaged in their first jobs, according to the Great Jobs, Great Lives Gallup-Purdue Index Report, which surveyed 30,000 U.S. college grads. That dual approach of putting classroom knowledge into practice is what transforms a college student into a desired employee.

Businesses should partner with colleges
If companies aren’t doing this already, they should be. Partnerships can take many forms including working with colleges to update their curricula or shape their career service offerings in order to keep up with the changing workplace. At Hill Holliday, executives visit local colleges to give guest lectures, participate in discussion panels and judge student competitions. This isn’t some feel-good, philanthropic effort. It leads directly to a workforce that is better trained to do what businesses need, providing a pipeline of job-ready talent for companies to keep the economy humming.

Students in all majors should be required to take at least one business course
Yes, all majors. Even students who study art, music or philosophy should be required to take at least one business course during college. Every job from physical therapist to social worker to museum curator would benefit from business knowledge. Requiring students to learn basic business skills will give them a head start after graduation in whichever field they choose. As Dan Everett, dean of arts and sciences at Bentley University, has pointed out “Even Shakespeare had to manage and sell his plays.”

Internships should be encouraged for all students
Internships offer tremendous benefits to students and companies alike. For millennials, they provide hands-on experience that will impress future employers, allow the young job-seeker to develop skills and answer the all-important question: Is this a career I’d like to pursue? For employers, internships are a golden opportunity to identify young talent and create relationships to build their future workforce. For many students, internships are the new entry-level jobs.

Career services should begin freshman year
For a college freshman, the post-graduation job search feels far away. Many students feel there’s plenty of time to network and job search later, right? Wrong. Even if they haven’t yet declared a major, students should visit their college career services office during their first semester. This will help them identify the available job-search resources and find a career advisor who can work with them throughout their college years. Waiting until senior year to start their career search puts students far behind when it comes to making a post-graduation career plan.

These steps won’t completely fix the problem, but they are a start. College should be a place that fosters learning and academic pursuit, as well as preparation for the career that comes after graduation.The future of our economy depends on it.

Gloria Larson is the president of Bentley University and Karen Kaplan is the chairman and CEO of Hill Holliday.

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