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Editor’s Comment: Have graduates lost the ‘X’ factor?

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Annie Ward
Nargis Ara, a PhD student with an Honours Degree in Pharmacy was the latest candidate to be sent packing from business game show The Apprentice in which fourteen hopefuls fight it out to become the six-figure protégé of AMSTRAD chief Sir Alan Sugar; Editor’s Comment looks at the plight of the graduate and wonders why their skills base no longer cuts it.



Ara is not the first graduate to have been booted from the reality TV show in which academic candidates jostle for their chance of success with those that left school at 16, as indeed did Sir Alan himself whose trading prowess started from a small council flat in Hackney.

So why is it that graduates are no longer the shining example of business perfection? The AGR Graduate Recruitment Survey 2006 reveals that sectors including law, insurance, banking and IT, predict no change in graduate starting salaries for the fifth consecutive year which suggests that they’re fiscal worth is also being devalued.

And despite increased numbers of graduates in the UK a significant number of employers are still experiencing some difficulty in filling all vacancies. Reasons cited for this include ‘Not enough applicants with the right skills or qualifications’ and ‘Graduates’ perception of the industry sector’.

And according to the AGR, almost half of recruiters believe current vacancies will be left unfilled because of this shortage of capable graduates with appropriate skills.

Carl Gilleard, AGR Chief Executive commented: “Employers are likely to be looking to graduates who can demonstrate softer skills such as team-working, cultural awareness, leadership and communication skills, as well as academic achievement.”

In response to this, sister site, TrainingZONE asked its members if graduate skills really are failing to meet expectations.

One member said: “Whilst academic achievements are undoubtedly to be congratulated, they are not always indicative of the practical abilities of the candidate.”

And the students themselves are admitting that what they’re learning is hard to translate to the business world. John McLean told TrainingZONE: “I think the problem today can be attributed to three things: the substance and types of courses available, student funding issues and volunteering opportunities. Many courses offered by colleges and universities are so academically focused that they allow very little opportunity to practice soft skills such as presentation skills.

“Student funding has slipped backward with the advent of Blair’s Higher Education Act which with the introduction of variable top-up fees will force more students to work part-time and have less time for their studies. This directly links to additional time for volunteering opportunities.”

We’re constantly hearing stories in the press that employers are going overseas to plug the skills gap which seems ironic when there’s a pool of ready and willing graduates on the doorstep just waiting to be snapped up. So what’s going on? Why would employers rather leave their vacancies unfilled then let the newbie grads have a go?

I asked professional body the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) for their views:

Rebecca Clake, CIPD Organisation and Resourcing Adviser, commented: “Employers should no more automatically rule new graduates out of the running for jobs than they should rule non-graduates out. Academic qualifications can only act as a basic selection tool for employers, but ruling someone out simply because they have recently gained a qualification is even more crude.”

Clake said that employers should concentrate efforts on carefully designed recruitment processes that allow businesses to assess candidates against specific job requirements, and to differentiate between job applicants on the basis of ability, not simply what qualifications they have or haven’t got.

“This is particularly important at a time when CIPD research shows employers are struggling to find suitably qualified candidates to fill vacancies. Getting the right recruitment process is an essential weapon in the ongoing war for talent. Ruling people out for having a degree could be a major handicap in that same war.”

Graduates that rely on academics alone, won’t get very far, warned Clake: “Recent graduates and current students also need to recognise that their degree certificate alone may not be enough to secure employment. Modern workers need to recognise that to remain attractive to employers they will need to continuously acquire skills relevant to the workplace, and be able to demonstrate these throughout their working lives.

“They also need to get better at using job applications to present themselves as complete and rounded individuals in a way that is relevant to the job, rather than simply relying on exam results to tell the story for them. Life-skills and experience gained outside of formal exams are important too.”

The message it seems is clear, gone are the days when a degree was the only ticket required to sign-up to a life-long career in corporateville with a nice salary, pension and soft leather arm chair to boot. Graduates today have to prove their worth, that not only are they bright but that they have the skills to match their academic prowess too. Discriminating on the grounds of education can work two ways it seems.

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One Response

  1. Are we paying too much?
    I am both an overseas educated migrant to the UK, and hold a Master’s degree in my field, plus over ten years practice experience, yet had the rather rude shock of finding out that recent grads are starting on a similar salary level to what I am on.
    I was most insulted considering the experience I have and performance I’ve put in – however, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, should I be surprised?
    In addition, I was appalled at the expectations, cheeky demands and arrogance of these youngsters who felt they deserved MORE money than was on offer – with many trying to play hardball and playing companies off each other…
    I always thought that a graduate programme was designed to take the raw, unformed, academically trained student and train them in a practical environment, enabling them to translate their academic studies into practical experience, while still learning on the job in a structured, organised way.
    I think it is a bit of a two-way street – employers shouldn’t expect these grads to be immediate high-performing stars, but neither should grads come in with the illusion that they can coast into management roles and that they know all there is to know.
    Perhaps neither party have realistic expectations… or we’ve set the bar too high…

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