A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­highlighted the unique challenges first-generation college students have in graduating with jobs in hand. Compared to their more affluent peers, first-generation students lack the professional networks, the opportunities for prestigious internships, and sometimes the social “power” skills that help students from college-going families succeed on the job market.

The unemployment rate for 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees is unbelievably low: 2.2%. And employers say that diverse talent — more than access to markets or infrastructure investment — is the key to driving business growth.

What, then, is the disconnect between graduates who can’t find career-launching jobs and employers who are eager for young, diverse talent?

At a recent talent conference produced by Campus Philly, the chief operating officer of the ITEM, Lee Nunnery II, put it succinctly: “The talent supply chain is not intact.” In other words, the things that should result in talented students and hungry employers finding each other are just not working.

Online tools have made applying to jobs easier than ever. As a result, employers have to sift through thousands of applications to make a hiring decision. Naturally this leads to using other heuristics to decide quickly: Did the applicant go to a school you know, even your alma mater? Did a friend or family member make a call or send a recommendation? Did the student have an internship at your company or a competitor and so is prepared to step immediately into your company culture? All of these narrow the funnel, allowing fewer students through to consideration and making it easier for employers to hire faster.

On the other side of the supply chain, students face an often-baffling set of expectations: You must send a thank-you note after meeting an employer, but you’ll never hear back from an employer after you’ve been interviewed. Social “power” skills are critical, but working in retail where customer service is central, on a construction crew where teamwork is critical, or juggling school, job, internship, and student clubs or sports don’t count as “power” skills. Diversity is said to be valued, but culturally you better look like everyone else.

Complicating what can be framed as a supply chain problem is the fact that we’re talking about a supply chain connecting people and culture, not just goods and services. The field is called “human resources” for a reason and workplaces are defined by their “culture” as much as their industry sector. These very human factors make recent grads finding the right opportunities and employers finding the right talent much more complicated.

Campus Philly has been in the business of connecting regional college students to job opportunity in greater Philadelphia so that they stay after they graduate. Over the years, we’ve seen more first generation students and more racial diversity at our events precisely because these students rely on alternative networking opportunities like the ones Campus Philly provides. Forty percent of students Campus Philly sees at our career events are first-generation students; the majority are women and 72 percent identify as racial minorities. Here’s what we’ve learned about helping these students find jobs in Philadelphia:

  • Dispense with the dress code. Allow students to “come as they are” erasing the barrier between those able to purchase formal clothes and those who are not and also enabling students to come to what can be a high-stress event feeling more like themselves.
  • Create a no-resume zone. Campus Philly sends resumes to employers after events, but we make sure the human connection comes first. When you meet someone who impresses you, and you learn about the multiple jobs they hold down and activities they’re involved in, you have a different reading of a GPA that may not be a 3.5.
  • Allow students to create networks with each other by bringing students from multiple campuses together. Empowering students to be each other’s professional networks is something that strengthens their chances of professional success not just immediately after college, but throughout their whole careers.

There are many other improvements that need to be made to the human resource supply chain, some of which will come more slowly to large institutions and employers. The first step, though, is realizing that there isn’t an even playing field for first-generation college students and being proactive about changing that.

Deborah Diamond is president of Campus Philly, a nonprofit organization that encourages college students to study, explore, live, and work in the greater Philadelphia tristate region.