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University leavers not "prepared for work" yet remain most preferred recruitment option by employers

Over half (57%) of employers still mainly look for degrees or post-graduate qualifications when recruiting staff, according to a new report from the CIPD.

Released today (3 August) the report, Employer views on skills policy in the UK, found such a narrow focus when filtering applications could mean employers are overlooking key talent.

Despite focusing on university education, a third (33%) of the employers surveyed said candidates from higher education were either ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ poorly prepared for the workplace.

Over two thirds (68%) of respondents also said they had the most difficulty finding jobseekers with the right technical skills.

Chris Butt, CEO of skills assessment software companies Cognisess and Yondur, said filtering by education means employers are missing out on talent.

Speaking to HR magazine he said: “Employers using degrees to filter candidates are missing out on a range of human and hard skills. Many of these qualifications reveal nothing of whether the candidate is a good fit and able to execute the demands of the job.

“Why not assess behaviour and personality, cognition, emotional intelligence and problem solving? Aren't these the factors that employers really want to see assessed and matched to a candidate's aspirations, talent and their potential?’’


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The CIPD called on employers to focus on skills and experience rather than qualifications in job applications.

Speaking to HR magazine, CIPD skills adviser Lizzie Crowley, said: “While a degree is a requirement for certain occupations and roles, too often employers base hiring decisions on whether someone has a degree or not, regardless of its relevance to the role.

“This severely disadvantages older workers, who may have the experience but lack the qualifications, and younger workers and those from diverse backgrounds who may not have had the opportunity to go to university.”

Just a fifth (19%) of employers access external training from colleges and a quarter (25%) use universities or other Higher Education institutions, leading the CIPD to urge business to invest in vocational training to upskill existing staff.

As qualifications will always be a requirement for some roles, Amber Peacock, talent acquisition manager at Arden University, said finding the right candidate is down to the questions asked and being realistic about what can and can’t be learned on the job.

She told HR magazine: “Recruitment teams and hiring panels should be asking questions that will draw out candidates’ soft skills. It can be surprising how many graduates have picked out these skills from their degree course.

“More importantly, employers should also be considering which skills can be taught on the job and what is needed for the candidate to immediately get stuck in their role.

“Businesses should be looking for candidates that demonstrate the fundamental skills for the role, while being flexible about the desirables; you want to ensure that the person you hire will be able to grow and learn on the job.”

The CIPD’s data is based on a survey of more than 2,000 senior decision-makers on skills. The full report can be found here.