LAWRENCE — In the field of athletic training, there has been talk for several years that new graduates are not ready for the work force. A University of Kansas professor has conducted studies showing that both employers and recent graduates partially agree on that point and is expanding his research to find out why it is happening and how higher education can address the problem.
David Carr, assistant professor of health, sport and exercise science, has published the findings of his survey of employees and recent grads in the Athletic Training Education Journal. In the study he asked people from both sides about the areas in which they are least prepared, where they are the strongest and how each could be improved.
“The biggest issue noted in the survey is interpersonal communication,” Carr said. “Both employers and recent graduates identified it as a concern. They have the hard skills, but they don’t have the soft skills.”
More than twice as many employees — 32 percent — cited confidence as an issue than employers — 13 percent. There was disconnect the other way as well, with 21 percent of employers and only seven percent of employees citing two other factors as areas of concern: decision making/independence and initiative. There are a number of factors that play into each of the areas of concern, but the overall picture painted by the survey is that athletic training graduates could be better prepared to enter the workforce.
“Is it the educational program’s fault? Is it the employer’s fault? Or is it a combination of the two,” Carr asked. “I think most people would agree it’s the combination of the two.”
Carr and colleagues are now working to gather a larger base of data that can guide changes to improve the educational side of athletic training. The timing is poignant, as there is a national movement for athletic training to transition to a model of students graduating with entry-level master’s degrees. Of the more than 300 athletic training programs in the United States, only 27 currently follow that model. As more make the switch, having information on hand to address strengths and weaknesses in the field can only help, Carr said.
To gather that data, Carr and colleagues will survey the 27 institutions currently offering entry-level master’s degrees and a random sampling of 27 that do not. They also plan to survey more employers and recent graduates through a three-year process. Participants will rate an employee, who will also rate him or herself, in various skill areas in each of three years, to see if problems are persisting and where areas of concern are.
“We want to cast a wide net and see what those in the profession think,” Carr said. “We’ll get a wide swath of people which can give us a snapshot of the industry.”
As the findings come in, Carr and colleagues hope to not only share their data with their peers in athletic training education, but also develop methods to address any deficiencies they may discover. As interpersonal communication was identified as a mutual area of concern in the previous study, they have already developed an approach to address it. KU students are given weekly tasks similar to those they would encounter in the field, such as delivering injury reports to coaches, talking with physicians and communicating an athlete’s injury to parents. If further points of concern are identified, athletic training educators could develop similar interventions that could be combined with current curriculum, thereby better preparing students to enter the workforce.