Project Information Literacy Research Report: “Learning Curve” | October 16, 2012 | Alison J. Head
The information transition from college to the workplace is daunting, according to the graduates we interviewed. Many said they felt as if they had been dropped into an unfamiliar setting that radiated urgency and pulsed with unrelenting deadlines. They were challenged by vaguely defined workplace research tasks and little feedback. As they settled into their 40-plus hour-a-week jobs, graduates said they relied on their computer expertise and leveraged information competencies from their college days for solving information problems. Unfortunately, these competencies only went so far. Employers needed them to use a more comprehensive and varied research approach. All in all, our findings reveal two sides of the same coin. The basic online search skills new college graduates bring with them are attractive enough to help them get hired. Yet, employers found that once on the job, these educated young workers seemed tethered to their computers. They failed to incorporate more fundamental, low-tech research methods that are as essential as ever in the contemporary workplace. The major findings from our interviews and focus groups are as follows: 1.
When it was hiring time, the employers in our sample said they sought similar information proficiencies from the college graduates they recruited. They placed a high premium on graduates’ abilities for searching online, finding information with tools other than search engines, and identifying the best solution from all the information they had gathered. 2.
Once they joined the workplace, many college hires demonstrated computer know-how that exceeded both the expectations and abilities of many of their employers. Yet we found these proficiencies also obscured the research techniques needed for solving information problems, according to our employer interviews. 3.
Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine, entering a few keywords, and scanning the first couple of pages of results, employers said, even though they needed newcomers to apply patience and persistence when solving information problems in the workplace. 4.
A majority of employers said they were surprised that new hires rarely used any of the more traditional forms of research, such as picking up the phone or thumbing through an annual report for informational nuggets. Instead, they found many college hires—though not all—relied heavily on what they found online and many rarely looked beyond their screens. 5.
At the same time, graduates in our focus groups said they leveraged essential information competencies from college to help them gain an edge and save time at work when solving workplace information problems. Many of them applied techniques for evaluating the quality of content, close reading of texts, and synthesizing large quantities of content, usually found online. 6.
To compensate for the gaps in their skills sets, graduates said they developed adaptive strategies for solving information problems in the workplace, often on a trial-and-error basis. Most of these strategies involved cultivating relationships with a trusted co-worker who could help them find quick answers, save time, and learn work processes
Most college hires were prone to deliver the quickest answer they could find using a search engine…