Firms fail to offer work experience but demand work-ready skills

Employers are increasingly looking for graduates with practical management and leadership skills

Only 29% of employers offer work experience placements, despite 85% wanting the graduates they employ to have completed such placements, according to research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).

The 21st Century Leaders report, published by CMI in association with the Chartered Association of Business Schools and Institute of Student Employers, surveyed more than 1,000 managers and 830 students.

It found that three in five (62%) employers look for graduates with practical management and leadership skills. The top five professional abilities they cited wanting in new managers were: taking responsibility (identified by 60%), people management skills (55%), honesty and ethical awareness (55%), problem-solving and critical analysis (52%), and collaboration and team-working (48%).

Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Institute of Student Employers, said work experience placements are an important way for students to gain such skills. "This report confirms the value of work experience in developing a student’s skills, which is why employers are more likely to hire those who have it,” he said. “We’d like to see more courses include structured placements with more students encouraged to take up those placements."

In terms of other ways students might obtain such skills, the research found that the majority of employers (70%) now want management, enterprise and leadership modules integrated into all degrees to improve graduates' work-readiness.

Additionally, two-thirds (66%) said they wanted to see graduates achieve professional qualifications alongside their main degree.

Ian Myson, director of higher education partnerships at the CMI, expressed his support for such qualifications. “As the government's review of higher education funding puts the spotlight on crippling levels of student debt, we need to talk about how to support graduate employability,” he said. “Our research shows that employers want leadership and management skills to be baked into all higher education courses to give students the work-ready skills needed to prepare the leaders of the future.

“Every graduate should leave education with a professional qualification to enhance their employability… Employers must now work with higher education and professional bodies to create a skilled workforce ready to meet the business challenges of the 21st century.”

Chief executive of the Chartered Association of Business Schools Anne Kiem emphasised the importance of people management skills and of work experience in developing these. “Improving people management skills is key to increasing the productivity of the UK’s businesses,” she said.

“Business schools begin to develop these skills in their students but they can only be honed through experience in the workplace. Business schools will welcome the greater desire from employers to offer students placements and internships.”

The research follows the CMI’s first 21st Century Leaders report in 2014, when only 22% of employers offered work experience placements. Though the 2018 research shows a 7% rise in this figure ‘there is still potential for much greater collaboration between educators and employers', the latest study states.