Business leaders and trade unions debate the best ways to help graduates into employment

David Woods , 08 Sep 2011


Being well qualified but unprepared for the realities of the world of work is proving yet another obstacle to new graduates getting into employment and achieving their career ambitions, according to recruitment leaders.

The conclusion follows a series of roundtable debates held earlier this year by Adecco, involving business leaders, trade unions and educators.

The events explored how employers, Government and individuals can best work together to challenge current thinking, drive economic growth and Unlock Britain's Potential. The key findings of the events, hosted by Adecco, the UK's largest recruiter, will feed into a 10-point action plan to be put to Government at a major conference in February 2012.

With youth unemployment close to record highs, addressing the mismatch between what some see as a narrow, results-driven education system and the broader life skills that employers want to see from those leaving school, college or university alongside their qualifications was considered vital in today's highly competitive jobs market.

Chris Moore, MD of Adecco Group Solutions, "In this country we have one of the best education systems in the world, which is why huge numbers of international students come here to study. But we should always be looking for ways to improve and one of the key issues that delegates at our events identified was the perceived lack of focus on helping young people translate their qualifications into successful careers. There was a strong feeling that there should be much greater emphasis on ensuring students leave the education system more rounded and better prepared for the world of work.

"We are turning out world-class plumbers, engineers, fashion designers and so on. But it's the more general business, social and life skills that we need to prioritise if candidates who look good on paper are to be taken on and to become truly successful in their career of choice."

Julie Mercer, Partner at Deloitte, who attended the event, added: "If you attended a good university and obtained a good degree, there is no question that you're probably bright enough to work for a firm such as Deloitte. But we are looking for much more than good grades so our recruitment process focuses on the wider skills, attitudes and behaviours that we believe would suggest that you've got the potential to become a great business advisor."

During the discussion, delegates identified areas where employability could be improved:

Improving literacy and numeracy. Working life and demands on employees have changed dramatically over recent decades and we no longer live in a society where there are a huge number of manual jobs. Therefore, a good grasp of subjects such as English and Maths are vital for almost all roles. As Iain Murray, Senior Policy Advisor at the TUC says, "For many employers and representatives of the workforce, if you don't acquire some of these basic skills in Maths and English you're going to be disadvantaged in the labour market forever."

Fostering "emotional intelligence" among students about the behaviour expected in the world of work. This could range from developing communications skills, to helping them relate to customers or to understanding the importance of punctuality and personal appearance.

Linking work experience more closely with study, so that young people coming into the jobs market have more to give, as well as a more realistic expectation of what will be on offer. The UK could learn from best practice in other countries which build more opportunities for a broader student experience into their curriculums.

Re-discovering the importance of teaching work-related skills to young people, for example, how to write business letters or build confidence in public speaking.

Encouraging independent thinkers rather than taking a "sausage machine" or results-driven approach to learning to help foster a sense of initiative and self-motivation.

Moore added: "This is a very challenging debate with a lot of important issues under the spotlight. It has been invaluable to get thought-leaders from the business, education and employee representative communities together to talk about what they would like to see change and discuss ideas for how that can be achieved. It's a very positive first step towards informing our 10-point action plan, which we will be taking to Government early next year."

Delegates at the events included representatives from the TUC, the Federation of Small Businesses, Westminster Kingsway College, Henley Business School, Deloitte, Lloyds Banking Group and Intellect.

The key findings of the Adecco Group's roundtable events will feed into a 10-point action plan to be put to Government at a major conference in February 2012.


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Sustained, coordinated action for a solution (what's the plan)?

Ralph Blunden 08 Sep 2011

The areas of improvement look familiar and grounded in common sense, but the challenge of these perennial themes is to establish a model of sustained and coordinated support to the student. By way of illustration: Improving literacy and numeracy - will need early interventions that combine the efforts of education providers (schools to universities) with the vision and motivation from employers on the value of such skills; Fostering "emotional intelligence" - evidence suggests that increasing emotional intelligence is predicated on the will and effort of a person to want to change and a "safe space" in which to learn and test - here is a case for support to further and higher education in how they nurture such opportunities while a person studies; Linking work experience more closely to study - key to this is "relevant" work experience (relative to skills required by future employers) and finding enough appropriate placements - what can be done to encourage employers to provide such opportunities?; Re-discovering the importance of teaching work-related skills to young people - aren't schools, colleges and universities already providing this? And if they are not, we need to understand why; Encourage independent thinkers - an interesting point as, if there ever is a chance in life to develop independent thinking, it's while studying at higher education. Given that government policy is moving away from the model of full-time higher education (arguably the optimal environment if we want to provide an opportunity to develop independent thinking), are we finally reaching a point of recognising one of the greatest unintended consequences of short-term decision-making? Does the government really comprehend this and what can higher education do to support this case? It will be interesting to observe if Adecco Group will provide a way forward that is sustainable and coordinated, i.e. a joined-up plan. There is a way, if we're all prepared to work together...

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