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Are graduates equipped with the right skills in the employability stakes? Joanne Raybould and Victoria Sheedy Joanne Raybould is Graduate Employment and Training Coordinator and Victoria Sheedy is Marketing Assistant, both at Graduate Advantage, Birmingham, UK. Abstract Purpose – To discuss employability and skills requirements for graduates from a graduate recruiter’s point of view. Design/methodology/approach – To look at key graduate recruitment organisations and explain what skills programmes are available to graduates. Also looks at continued development and what employers may be able to do in the future to improve skills?

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Findings – There are transferable skills that employers like to see in a graduate and these can vary according to type of role; also, in general, graduates are keen to develop their skills further. There are organisations to help graduates improve these employability skills like Graduate Advantage and higher education institutions. Originality/value – Of value to employers looking to recruit graduates, who need to be aware of what types of programmes are available to graduates. It is valuable to graduates, who need to look at their own skills and improve their employability.

Keywords Graduates, Skills, Employment Paper type Viewpoint I ? t is something of a cliche for businesses to note the importance of their ‘‘human resource’’, i. e. their people. But, what is expected from this resource? What skills are required, particularly from graduates entering employment? This article explores some of these questions and reports on the action that is being taken in some areas to support business requirements. The skills required The emphasis on skills required by employers varies depending on the type of job role to be carried out within an organisation.

However there has been some consensus of opinion on the importance of ‘‘transferable’’ or ‘‘employability’’ skills for employees, particularly for those in management positions. These skills refer to certain personal abilities of an individual, which can be taken from one job role to another, used within any profession and at any stage of their career. According to Graduate Prospects, the trading subsidiary of the charity HECSU, ‘‘Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of vacancies on offer are open to graduates from any discipline. This re? cts the fact that employers are looking for vital soft skills in graduates which are obtained during study and periods of work experience, rather than degree-speci? c knowledge. ’’ Peter Knight from the Institute for Educational Technology at the Open University is quoted in the Hobsons Directory 2005 (www. get. hobsons. co. uk), for graduate-level vacancies, discussing skills looked on favourably amongst employers: ‘‘When hiring, employers generally value good evidence of: ability to cope with uncertainty; ability to work under pressure; action-planning skills; communication skills; IT skills; pro? iency in networking and DOI 10. 1108/00197850510609694 VOL. 37 NO. 5 2005, pp. 259-263, Q Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 0019-7858 j INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING j PAGE 259 team working; readiness to explore and create opportunities; self-con? dence; self-management skills; and willingness to learn’’. Thus for graduates to be attractive to employers it is important that they are able to show evidence of having these skills. Statements from employers’ organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development include comments on ‘‘the dif? ulty employers face in recruiting ‘work-ready’ individuals’’. Therefore it is relevant to consider whether graduates do have the opportunity to develop these work related skills What is being done to ensure that graduates are ‘‘work-ready’’? According to the Learning and Teaching Support Network, ‘‘producing employable graduates is becoming more complex and more important. Graduate numbers are expanding faster than the market for traditional graduate jobs; graduates are more diverse in age, social background and motivations, while the labour market which they enter is more complex and volatile.

As a result, the government and HEFCE have become more interested in measuring institutions’ success in this ? eld. ’’ ‘‘At the same time, Government’s concern to develop the skills and knowledge base of the economy has led to the creation of a network of agencies with interests in graduate skills, including Regional Development Agencies, Sector Skills Councils and Local Learning and Skills Councils. ’’ In addition initiatives such as Employer Training Pilots have been implemented to stimulate both the supply and demand for skills.

The experience of a government-funded organisation involved with learning and development, Graduate Advantage, con? rms the need for focus and collaboration amongst organisations to ensure that graduates are developed appropriately and their input to businesses enhanced. Graduate Advantage as a graduate recruiter has over 25 years combined experience spread across the team, with graduates being recruited for many types of roles, for its graduate employment and training programme. Whilst offering a free recruitment advertising service for West Midlands based businesses it also has a wider remit, which includes graduate development.

As a result of a collaboration between the heads of careers services in 11 higher education institutions in the West Midlands, Graduate Advantage recognise that recent graduates may lack the experience and the awareness of the skills required by employers and seeks to improve the situation. To enhance ‘‘employability’’, graduates are directed to their careers service for assistance on areas such as: B B B B completing applications; interview techniques; assessment centres; and personal development. Graduate Advantage offers graduates and ? al year students the opportunity to complete a three-day intensive skills course (GradSkills) to boost their employability. GradSkills comprises workshops, lectures and group activities. As explained by Joanne Raybould, graduate employment and training coordinator at Graduate Advantage. ‘‘The course is an initiative that helps prepare graduates looking for their ? rst major employment role. Over the three days the aim is to improve the graduate’s commercial awareness and to develop their personal transferable skills.

In addition the graduates are given valuable advice from employers, on what is expected from a graduate level employee’’. A networking event on day two enables interaction with graduates and employers. In addition, ‘‘The Business Game’’, delivered by Birmingham Future, who aim to develop the leadership potential of Birmingham’s young professionals, enables the graduates to demonstrate their new skills working in teams under the scrutiny of local employers. PAGE 260 INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING VOL. 37 NO. 5 2005 j j

Siu Mei Pang, who studied BA Communication, Culture and Media at Coventry University, commented ‘‘I gained a lot of useful information and insight into the business industry. I developed skills which are invaluable to employers. ’’ It is important to allow graduates to see the value of their learning through the eyes of the employers. As James Morrish, publicity and promotions of? cer at Rural Stress Information Network, explains ‘‘Public speaking and presentation skills are important tools in the world of business. I was happy to give up my time to providing guidance on the development of these skills to a very talented group of graduates. ’ Small- and medium-sized businesses in particular welcome initiatives such as GradSkills as it enables them to access graduates who have had development similar to that offered by large company graduate training schemes. Graduates sometimes ? nd that smaller businesses have the opportunity to offer more responsibility and a wider range of experiences in the early stages of their career. Rudi Kesic, BA in Law and LLM in International Law at Warwick University, discusses his experiences: ‘‘I always used to think it was the large multinational ? rms in London who offered ‘diversity’ but in my experience the opposite is the case.

Working in a smaller ? rm has de? nitely given me the opportunity to make a difference. Anything I do immediately re? ects on the whole team and so my actions have direct impact on the future of the ? rm. ’’ The bene? t of a variety of ongoing development opportunities The importance of ensuring that opportunities to develop continue during employment is noted by The Association of Graduate Recruiters’ chief executive Carl Gilleard who states ‘‘Employers are looking for a reasonable level of skills to be further developed and the potential to develop those skills. ’ (source: The Prospects Directory 2004/5, www. prospects. ac. uk). Graduate Advantage has found that there is no lack of enthusiasm for further learning amongst student and graduates and in response, has placed emphasis upon professional development based around the requirement of graduates, their role within an organisation and the employer needs. As part of the graduate employment and training programme (GET), each graduate undertakes a training-needs analysis in relation to the requirements of the role and the employer.

Once completed, a training plan is prepared to assist with continued professional development. Enhancement of skills does not come purely from attending training courses. A mix of learning and development approaches can be bene? cial. For example at Graduate Advantage, some graduates have utilised the traditional method of reading books combined with the technology based ‘‘e-learning’’. Almost all graduates on the GET programme have attended workshop style courses where there is the additional bene? t of networking and sharing good practice.

The in-house training delivered at Graduate Advantage is summarised below, the strong emphasis upon practical application has been particularly well received by graduates and employers alike. A summary of the Graduate Advantage workshops is shown in Table I. How do employers identify whether graduates have the appropriate skills? The desire for motivated staff is nothing new; it links to the employer’s notion that they like to recruit people who have chosen to work for them. Recruiters know that in reality most ‘ Graduates are more diverse in age, social background and motivations, while the labour market which they enter is more complex and volatile. ’’ VOL. 37 NO. 5 2005 INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING PAGE 261 j j Table I A summary of the Graduate Advantage workshops Name of course Project management Content What is project management? The purpose of projects Phases and checkpoints Project direction Tracking and control Checkpoint reviews Progress monitoring and reporting Report writing Risk assessment Cost bene? analysis Task activity management Action planning Gant charts Time thieves Reactive and proactive work Time management model Delegation Tips on altering the way we do things now Effective meetings The functions of management The decision-making manager Organisational structure Organisational culture Links between structure and culture and their effects on business The business environment Understanding the team Team dynamics Group development Team communication Motivation Managing teams Your style Preparation Visual aids Active listening Questions Environment Communication in teams Communication in meetings Communication by telephone Active listening Questioning The agreement staircase The negotiation process Preparation checklist When not to negotiate Who wins? Pitching the ? rst bid Deadlock Qualities of a negotiator Negotiating teams Sources of capital Introduction to accounts What is a cash ? ow forecast? How do budgets link to cash ? ow? The balance-sheet and its parts Break-even The quality improvement cycle Why do we lose customers?

Exceeding customer expectations Prevention is better than cure Solve the problem before it occurs Analysis tools Communication with your customers Customer relationship building Time management Commercial awareness Team-work and team-building Presentation skills Effective communication Negotiation Financial business analysis Customer service PAGE 262 INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING VOL. 37 NO. 5 2005 j j ‘‘ Graduates sometimes ? nd that smaller businesses have the opportunity to offer more responsibility and a wider range of experiences in the early stages of their career. ’’ graduates make more than just one job application, but nevertheless they expect to see reasons why a graduate has chosen them.

Through all levels of the selection process, they expect a graduate to demonstrate an understanding of what the business is about and an enthusiasm to be part of it. Competence based questions have become increasingly prevalent over the past 10 years. There is focus upon the all round skills such as team-working, leadership, problem solving as well as technical abilities. The online application forms used on www. graduateadvantage. co. uk have the facility for employers to add their own competency-based questions. Give and example of when you have shown initiatives? Describe a time when you had to work effectively with peoples who’s views differ to your own. How did you management the situation? What about the future?

In conclusion it seems that the general consensus from higher education institutions is that the current and future employment market requires graduates to be equipped with a range of skills. Applicants need to be able to demonstrate their core transferable skills in addition to their academic success. Students and graduates need to be willing to develop their personal and professional skills relevant for the world of work to improve their chances of employment success. In addition they need to take advantage of opportunities to develop relevant skills – for example during work experience and part-time employment. However, there is also a responsibility for employers who are demanding the skills.

In a market economy, employers are often reluctant to invest in employee development due to perceived uncertainty about the return on this investment of time and money. Some critics are going as far as to say that a training levy system should be introduced, as in France, but such regulation is unlikely to be forthcoming in the UK where employers and government are more committed to a more voluntarist system with limited state intervention and regulation. Thus employers will bene? t from actively looking for available assistance in the area of learning and development, and initiatives such as Graduate Advantage will continue to deliver an integral part of the support needed by West Midlands business. VOL. 37 NO. 5 2005 INDUSTRIAL AND COMMERCIAL TRAINING PAGE 263 j j

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