Nathan Brown, a 19-year-old sophomore at York College who is from Frederick, Md., said he thinks a lot of students have professional qualities, but says
Nathan Brown, a 19-year-old sophomore at York College who is from Frederick, Md., said he thinks a lot of students have professional qualities, but says some can be slackers. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)
Just hanging around campus or going out with friends, Kaitlyn Kauffman knows that casual dress is OK.

She knows there's a way you talk to your friends and family and a way you talk to prospective employers. She knows that if you don't put in the work, you're not going to achieve the goal.

So Kauffman, a 19-year-old York College sophomore studying forensic chemistry, doesn't quite know what to make of a survey conducted by a local pollster and professor at her school that found that business leaders and human resource professionals say a lot of recent college grads from around the country enter the workforce lacking the professionalism required to secure employment.

"I think once you graduate, you know what you want to do and how to go about doing it," said Kauffman, from Columbia. "There's a big difference between being a freshman and going into your sophomore or junior year. If you don't do your work, you're not going anywhere."

Kauffman was dressed casually -- jeans, a T-shirt and jacket. Her friend, Perri Stueber, a 20-year-old sophomore from New Jersey, was also casually attired and sported a piercing on her nose.

That's how they dress to go to class. When they go to meetings and mock job interviews, they dress and behave professionally.

As far as attitude and work ethic are concerned, Stueber said, "By the time you're in your sophomore year, you know what it takes. You can't slack off any more.


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The national survey, conducted by Polk-Lepson Research Group of York on behalf of York College's Center for Professional Excellence, found that one in three business leaders believed that less than half of all recent college graduates exhibit the professionalism needed to succeed in the workplace.

The survey found they were not measuring up in areas such as interpersonal skills, communication, work ethic, professional appearance and self-confidence, said pollster David Polk, also a professor of behavioral science at York College.

A third of the 520 business leaders surveyed believed that the level of professionalism exhibited had declined over the past five years.

"Those who cited a decrease pointed to a young worker's sense of entitlement for the job, changes in culture and values and lack of work ethic among new workers," a news release about the survey said.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed reported that the sense of entitlement among first-year graduates had increased over the past five years, saying that recent grads believed they were entitled to rewards without having to expend any effort to earn them.

That's important, Polk said.

"The minute (employers) see that, they think that's not the type of person you want to bring into your workforce," he said.

Business leaders also complained, according to the release, that many recent college graduates had a hard time accepting personal responsibility for their decisions and lacked the ability to act independently.

"We should do college students a favor and tell them that when they mess up, rather than shifting the blame, it's better to just admit that you messed up," Polk said. "The current generation goes through life as if there's a re-set button, if they make a mistake they can just push the re-set button and start over."

Perhaps that's why 20 percent of those surveyed suggested that colleges help students work on their attitudes and demeanors.

That might be so, said Nathan Brown, a 19-year-old sophomore from Frederick, Md., who plans to go to law school when he graduates, but a lot of students don't have those attitudes.

"I believe a high volume of students do have professional qualities," he said. "I'm not sure where that (the findings of the survey) comes from."

He admits, though, that some students may be slackers and may lack a professional attitude.

"Some can dress up and walk the walk," he said, "but they can't talk the talk."

DEFINING PROFESSIONALISM

The five primary characteristics of professionalism identified by business leaders and human resource professionals were:

--- Personal interaction skills, including courtesy and respect.

--- The skills to communicate, and listen. 

--- A great work ethic; being motivated and staying on task until the job is completed.

--- Professional appearance.

--- Self-confidence and awareness.

Those same business leaders, according to the survey by the Polk-Lepson Research Group, gave recent college graduates low marks on all of those characteristics.

-- Polk-Lepson Research Group of York.