Employers these days are paying more attention to experience than grade-point averages when filling entry-level positions, recent research indicates.
And with so many displaced workers competing for those jobs in a lean economy, that means colleges have to help graduates keep pace.
"It means little to an employer that you earned a 4.0 GPA if you do not understand how to properly communicate or conduct yourself in a professional environment," University of South Carolina Beaufort career services director Rachel Hoover said.
A survey by American Public Media's Marketplace and The Chronicle of Higher Education found businesses value work experience most when making new hires. Employers and experts who participated in the survey say students need to make the most of their experience beyond the classroom, particularly since on-the-job preparation no longer makes financial sense to a lot of companies.
USCB is among the colleges emphasizing field work and internships.
For instance, the school's hospitality management majors are required to complete a 400-hour internship to graduate. The students also can gain additional experience by registering in practicum classes as sophomores.
Additionally, students in human services complete three, 120-hour internships as part of their study, and those enrolled in the nursing program work in both laboratory and clinical settings, where their performance is observed by hospital staff.
Area high schools also have responded to marketplace changes, forming more partnerships with businesses that can prepare students for the workforce.
Twenty-three Beaufort Academy high school students left the classroom March 4 and spent the week helping at area hospitals, law firms, physical-therapy centers and other businesses.
Among then was senior Briley Langehans, 17, who helped nurse anesthetists at Beaufort Memorial Hospital prepare and monitor patients before and after surgery.
"It was an eye-opening experience to see the type of on-the-job knowledge, training and skill sets required," Langehans said, adding that such knowledge will help guide her decisions at college as she prepares for a possible career in medicine.
More than 125 Beaufort County School District high school students participated in internships or cooperative education this school year. The district partners with more than 30 business to provide students work-place experience -- a 20-percent increase from last year, according to Ralph Lataille, coordinator of career and technology education.
Beginning this school year, Battery Creek High students can earn college credit in aviation studies through a partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and district officials have approached Boeing in Charleston and Gulfstream in Savannah about pairing the program with apprenticeships and internships.
Lataille said a Gulfstream representative will brief high school guidance counselors in a teleconference next week.
Battery Creek High junior Erik Barbosa followed in his brother's footsteps this year, interning with XRDi in Beaufort.
The small research-and-development company designs and produces high-efficiency engines for military drones, including the U.S. Army's Shadow Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.
The company has been in business for about 15 years and began using Battery Creek students as interns last year.
"This industry is a young man's game," company president Merritt Patterson said. "The workers we're looking for don't exist on the street. We're a young industry and need to develop enthusiasm among students for this field. We need to prime the pump."
Barbosa helped manage XRDi's inventory and supply chain -- "making a real contribution to the value of the product the company produces," Patterson said.
"I learned to communicate in a professional setting, which I had struggled with, and feel better prepared to approach employers as I head to college," Barbosa said.
USCB accounting instructor Jane Lambert said the connections between learning and earning are as important now as ever.
"I don't think this is anything new," Lambert said. "What is new ... is the speed with which former students are expected to respond-react-analyze-make decisions once they become professionals. ... The transition between college and the workplace, which once took place over several months in management-training programs, is expected to take place instantly."
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.