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John Hackston

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Preparing students for the world of work: The long-term approach


This summer's students may have graduated, but are they business-ready? John Hackston ruminates.

As another intake of students settles into university and school leavers enter the world of work, British employers are still lamenting a lack of skilled workers, suggesting that the country’s education system fails to meet the needs of businesses. Indeed, research released this week found three-fifths of businesses feel employment expectations among young people are too high, and the same proportion believe that they do not understand what employers are looking for.

This follows calls from the British Chambers of Commerce back in August for a reduced emphasis on exams and hitting targets because this has 'robbed' school leavers of the basic skills needed to succeed in the world of work. That may well be true, but it’s equally important to acknowledge the careers advice gap which is also hindering many young people’s chances of succeeding in work. And shouldn’t our approach to skills development consider what happens beyond higher education?

"The downside of our Generation Y world is that employers are much less likely to actively manage employees’ careers for them – they expect individuals to be in the driving seat."

Although many universities now offer vocational courses that give students a better idea of what to expect when they enter the world of work, the majority of young people leave education with limited insight into possible career paths and without the interpersonal skills that they will need in their chosen career. It can be hard for universities to give in-depth, one-to-one advice to all their students and offer a thorough insight into how their personality will impact their job success.

Having said that, many educational institutions do take a proactive approach to preparing students for the world of work. The University of Surrey, for example, recently embraced training for their research engineers with the aim of assisting their transition to the workplace. The university used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to increase self-awareness and ran a number of subsequent workshops designed to help students build a greater understanding of their own behavioural drivers, interpersonal style and likely managerial approach, as well as an appreciation of why others may prefer to work in different ways. The concept of psychological type has become a central part of the researchers’ vocabulary and working processes, according to the university.

Meanwhile, employers worry at how unprepared school leavers and graduates are, and how ill-equipped they can be for taking control of their career paths and longer-term development. The downside of our Generation Y world is that employers are much less likely to actively manage employees’ careers for them – they expect individuals to be in the driving seat.

As people grow older and their ability to take in new knowledge, deal with stress and 'flex' their personality changes, having an insight into personality can play a key role. Using a tool such as the Career Success Report, for example, can reveal blind-spots, pitfalls and challenges, and ultimately make it easier to transfer knowledge into tangible behaviour change. Whatever their goals, institutions and employers do not have to work in the dark when it comes to helping school leavers, students and staff take a long-term approach to development – there are professional, insightful psychometric tools out there to help individuals to build their self-awareness and prepare not only for the world of work but for a long and successful career.

John Hackston is head of R&D at OPP Ltd


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