Recent college grads: They're not so bad at work

Employers that regularly hire workers in their early 20s find them to be just as diligent and competent as their generational predecessors.

This article was originally published by on Thursday, June 7, 2012.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- As waves of new college graduates flood into work­places, you may be bracing yourself for an onslaught of entitled youngsters who expect to be hand-held during training. After all, Millennials are the only generation that doesn't list "work ethic" as a defining trait, according to the Pew Research Center. Indeed, 75% of those Pew polled said that older people have a stronger work ethic than young adults.

But take heart, managers of America. Employers that regularly hire workers in their early 20s find them to be just as diligent and competent as previous generations. This year's crop of graduates, after all, entered college just as the worst recession since the 1930s took hold, so they're likely grateful simply to have a job -- and willing to work hard to keep it. Keep an open mind, and you may find that this year's recent grads defy the well-worn stereotype that Gen-Y'ers are all ambition and little else. In fact, these new arrivals can contribute plenty to your workplace.

"They're very earnest and nervous when they start," says Joy Adams, a program specialist at Navistar, one of the world's largest manufacturers of diesel trucks and engines, based in Lisle, Ill. "They know these older generations are holding on to their jobs longer, so they recognize that rapid moving up isn't as likely. They are certainly grateful."
The job market for recent grads is improving, as companies plan to take on 10.2% more college graduates this year than last year, according to a survey of National Association of Colleges and Employers members. Recent grads "bring creativity, enthusiasm and fresh perspectives -- something needed by all companies to stay competitive," says Marie Artim, president of the association and vice president of talent acquisition for Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Navistar hires about 20 fresh college graduates every year for a 24-month leadership development program that allows them to rotate through three or four different areas of the company. Not only does the program give new employees exposure to different groups where they might find full-time roles, it also provides a gentle transition from the semester-based academic life, with a fresh start every 12 weeks or so.
"I tell them that every job you take is just a long interview and it will be that way for the rest of your life. Every day you come in and deliver, you are proving yourself and that's what will make you successful," Adams says.
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