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Employers and Graduates are Damagingly Disconnected, Says New Study


A gulf of misunderstanding between employers and new graduates means the two are ‘damagingly disconnected’ according to new research by the think-tank Demos.

Commissioned by Orange plc, the report reveals that talented graduates feel out of place in organisations as companies struggle to motivate and support a generation of young people with higher debt, different values and expectations of a better work life balance.

In turn, companies report that graduates do not have a sufficient understanding of their rapidly changing needs.

The report, Working Progress: How to reconnect young people and organisations, demonstrates that while today’s well qualified graduates need to improve their skills in creativity and communication, employers need to work on their cultural understanding of young people’s needs and lifestyles to ensure that they retain their best and brightest recruits.

The research of 539 graduates and 50 HR directors of FT250 companies or their equivalent revealed:

  • Only one in four graduates expects to be in the same company in five years’ time

  • 43 per cent feel awkward challenging their boss, rising to 53 per cent for women

  • Only 19 per cent of graduates would go to their manager with a problem at work – whereas 50 per cent would go to fellow employee

  • Employers themselves report that the biggest challenge for graduate employees was ‘fitting into an organisational hierarchy’ – with 40 per cent agreeing to this statement

  • Nearly four in 10 graduates report work-life balance problems in their new jobs.

“The current focus on qualifications and university places has diverted attention from the changing cultural values of young people,” say the report’s authors, Sarah Gillinson and Duncan O’Leary of Demos.

“While graduates need to improve softer skills, employers need to go back to school to learn what motivates their future recruits.”

The Demos and Orange research also reveals that this lack of understanding goes both ways – with graduates unclear about which skills employers are looking for:

  • 91 per cent of graduates say they felt well prepared for the workplace. But employers disagree, 54 per cent saying that it is harder to find graduates with the right skills

  • While employers expect creativity and innovation to be the most important skill for graduates in ten years’ time, graduates only ranked this as eighth in their ‘must-have’ skills list

  • Employers list communication skills and problem solving as top of their agenda in today’s workplace.

“It’s not so much a gap in skills as a gulf between cultures,” said Alastair MacLeod, vice president, Orange Business Services.

“The report shows that employers will benefit by going back to the classroom and reconnecting with young people by developing real working relationships with them. Graduates in turn must develop a better understanding of the rapidly changing needs of their employers. We will then not only understand each other better, but will cultivate the social and creative skills our knowledge economy needs.”

Sir Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, said: “This report from Orange and Demos marks a departure away from the traditional skills-shortage debate.

“Understanding the personal and professional needs of today’s university leavers is essential for the growth of British business, as we cannot expect employers to connect properly with graduates when they are speaking in different languages.

“For too long the issue of the skills gap has been an exercise in finger-pointing and blame-avoidance. It is time to turn this around and create a positive sum game involving employers, government, the education system and of course the graduates themselves.”

But the report does offer some solutions to help resolve the problem and reconnect with young people.

  • Work Life Balance: Employers should treat work life balance as a skill, if company policies are to be workable in practice. Employers should provide specialist training in this skill and monitor progress as part of performance appraisals.

  • Deep Support: Employers should provide recruits with advice and guidance on issues such as student debt and accommodation.

  • Peer Support: Employers should put in place mentoring schemes that recognise young people’s tendency to form relationships and support networks with peers.

Demos also suggests a range of measures to develop creativity, entrepreneurial and initiative skills that are not covered by today’s curricula:

  • Skills Portfolios: Accredited by the Government but jointly awarded by schools and third parties from business or community organisations. The Skills Portfolio would measure young people’s aptitudes in communication, team work, project management demonstrated through participation in practical projects.

  • Skills Contracts Networks: Employers should form co-operative networks in which they offer recruits exchanges between member organisations. These would broaden graduates’ experience, help develop transferable skills, and reflect the ‘itchy feet’ of graduates in the early part of their career.


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