American colleges are apparently now working to focus more on career preparation because they want to help their graduates be better prepared to get jobs. Good luck with that, career services; you can’t get blood from a stone.

According to a piece in the Huffington Post:

Schools have revamped career centers, expanded internship programs and pushed alumni to serve as mentors. The changes are not only in response to a tough job market, but because parents are demanding that graduates be prepared for the workplace.

“Parents and students’ questions and concerns have changed just as much as society has changed,” said John Fraire, vice president for student affairs and enrollment at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. “Questions about job security, income, graduation rates – it’s to be expected.”

Questions like these are understandable, for sure, but its unlikely any of these workforce preparation programs will result in meaningful workforce participation.

According to the article, Northeastern and Drexel now offer co-op programs. Franklin & Marshall College’s career services department has “skills workshops on public speaking, social media, etiquette and even the art of the business meal.”
The University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Hospitality and Tourism Management department has “a program in which students could meet industry leaders.”

If only those industry leaders were hiring. All of these efforts represent pretty interesting responses to parents’ concerns about job placement, but it’s an attempt to address the wrong problem.

The reason college graduates are having trouble finding jobs isn’t because of insufficient vocational training; it’s because the economy is still pretty bad and there’s just insufficient demand for college graduates in the job market.

As Paul Beaudry, an economist at the University of British Columbia, explained in a paper published earlier this year, there may be a more serious structural problem:

Demand for college-level occupations—primarily managers, professionals and technical workers—peaked as a share of the workforce in about 2000, just as the dot-com bubble was about to burst, and then began to decline. The supply of such workers, meanwhile, continued to grow through the 2000s. The subsequent housing boom helped mask the problem by creating artificially high demand for workers of all kinds, but only temporarily.

That’s not something “the art of the business meal” can fix.

It’s true colleges like Northeastern and Drexel might be able to offer a little help placing students around the edges, but there’s only so much career services can do. Colleges can’t place all their graduates into professional jobs if those jobs don’t exist.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer