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Graduates lack skills for work

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Following on similar research in September 2000, the Chartered Management Institute, supported by the London College of Printing and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, has undertaken new research into graduate key skills and employability.

Results
- 75 per cent of managers questioned think that the IT skills of graduate recruits are good in this year’s survey. This is not the case with basic skills, but it has got better: 42 per cent think they are good in 2002 compared with 30 per cent in 2000. However, there is a significant worsening of managers’ views about graduates’ problem solving and analytical thinking skills in this year’s survey.

In view of the low levels of interpersonal skills found in the 2000 survey, the latest survey explored in greater depth the impact of the lack of these skills on the graduates’ role in the workplace. Poor interpersonal skills, in particular, are having a major impact on young executives’ performance in a whole range of workplace scenarios. The majority of employers say it is reflected in poor levels of diplomacy and graduates’ lack of understanding of colleagues and customers, in terms of formal etiquette, and in the way young executives handle business meetings.

The attributes most appreciated by managers are graduates’ receptiveness to training, their attendance record and self-confidence. They are less satisfied with regard to loyalty, respect for authority and motivation. These findings reveal an underlying tension between employers’ awareness that while, on the one hand, graduates respond well to training and development, on the other they are likely to move on to another organisation relatively quickly. This is demonstrated by the fact that loyalty is perceived as their weakest attribute.

Managers increasingly expect their graduate recruits to be with them for only a relatively short period of time. When asked in 2000, only 26 per cent of managers expected their graduate recruits to stay for 2 years or less. This has risen significantly to some 35 per cent in this year’s survey. In addition, managers appear to have high expectations of their graduates’ preparedness for their professional roles. Asked how soon their organisation expects its graduate recruits to be contributing effectively, some 69 per cent, to whom the question applied, say within six months. This lends weight to the argument of those who contend that employers these days require their graduates to ‘hit the ground running’.

Graduate Development
This year’s survey findings show that most organisations provide a wide range of personal development schemes for their graduate recruits. Seventy-seven per cent provide in-company training, to develop organisation-specific skills and competencies, and opportunities to study for external qualifications. Seventy-six per cent provide professional training courses and 72 per cent plan on-the-job development. A substantial majority also provide in-company training to develop skills lacking in the individual manager such as mentoring, coaching, and a continuous professional development programme.

What higher education can do to enhance employability?
The practical approach of encouraging students to have periods of work experience is perceived by 76 per cent as being the most effective initiative to enhance employability. A significant number of managers also see a need for a greater emphasis on careers advice at university and college. Fifty-two per cent believe that this has a role in enhancing students’ communication skills and 46 per cent say the same about improving students’ understanding of behaviour in the workplace.

Conclusions
There has been a noticeable and encouraging improvement since the 2000 survey in managers’ perceptions about graduates’ basic skills and communication skills. However, there are still clear shortcomings in graduates’ interpersonal skills, particularly apparent with regard to political and diplomatic skills that a clear majority of managers say that graduates are lacking. Employers see a clear role for their organisations in enhancing students’ employability, but also think careers advisory services have an important part to play. There is clear evidence of a high degree of employer engagement with students, but more work experience opportunities are required.

Recommendations
The findings clearly show the need for a far greater contribution from careers advisory services within universities, with employers suggesting that the provision of careers advice on communication skills and workplace behaviour could have a major impact in raising graduates’ preparedness for the world of work. There should be funding provision and clear targets set for all HE establishments to develop their careers advisory services as a channel for delivering non-academic personal development programmes. Direct provision should be made for all students to experience a minimum amount of training in workplace skills that is likely to be taught by someone outside the student’s academic faculty. In order further to improve the links between industry and education, both sectors should consider developing more programmes to enable the part-time or temporary transfer of staff between industry and HE. This would provide academic staff with greater awareness of the business environment that their students are likely to enter and would also enable industry-specific knowledge to be included within relevant academic subjects.

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