Future Skilling – What Employers Look For in Graduates, and Where Young Talent Lack Skills

By: Piers Lee LinkedIn, Managing Director of BVA BDRC Asia

BVA BDRC has long been a proud employer of university students and recent graduates, with a culture of bringing-on bright young talent. Each year we eagerly await the next intake of placement students and, where possible, relish the opportunity to offer permanent positions to top performers upon completion of their studies. Our senior team comprises previous placement students and graduate hires who have since forged successful long-term careers at the agency.

The strategy has served us so well that we are also now committed to ‘always on’ graduate recruitment, ensuring that we do not miss an opportunity to recruit the cream of the crop: intelligent, driven and diligent individuals with an emotional maturity that belies their years.

However, BVA BDRC’s positive graduate recruitment experiences do not apply to all businesses. Our research in this field suggests that there is an untapped opportunity for schools and universities to adapt their curricular and better support young people as they enter the workforce.

Graduates remain in high demand.

Our recent survey of 1,280 UK businesses showed that 33% of employers intend to hire graduates in the next two years and 40% will hire school leavers (aged 16- 18 years). However, the number of graduates that businesses intend to recruit will be higher by an average of about eleven graduates per company compared to an average of nine for school leavers. This shows that demand for graduates is high.

The businesses in the survey acknowledge that graduates bring a range of value-add qualities, specifically their interpersonal skills and creativity. The more applied university courses teach specific skills useful to industry while other courses are viewed by businesses as a certification of capability, intelligence and trainability.

Not all employers see ‘graduate status’ as a guaranteed indicator of success.

We also asked businesses to identify the key weaknesses of graduates and a range of factors were highlighted. The main issues were emotional immaturity, their poor discipline, poor interpersonal skills and a lack of entrepreneurial skills. Notably, when we compared this to school leavers (typically 3-5 years younger than graduates) there are significantly more question marks about graduates’ emotional maturity, self-discipline and generally ‘not fitting in’.

Expanding further, these businesses perceive a lack of resilience, with graduates seen as coming from a ‘too protected environment,’ arriving with an entitled mentality and overrating their capabilities.

Some businesses are questioning the role of the university experience

We have to acknowledge that this is a complex and nuanced topic. A melting pot of dimensions, including cultural, socio-economic and political factors (to name but a few) have the potential to influence an individual’s path through education as well as their wider life experiences, expectations and outlook. Equally, the employer perspective will be influenced by the fact that higher education is simply inappropriate for certain industries. Moreover, it takes time and commitment to deliver an effective graduate recruitment and training strategy – as we have learnt at BVA BDRC!

However, it is also interesting to note the perspective of some employers and add an emerging hypothesis to the mix: aspects of the university experience may be ill preparing graduates for employment and contributing to lower emotional maturity.

These businesses place the blame, in part, on so-called safe spaces in universities and ‘non-offence’ directives. The quest for a tolerant and diverse environment is criticised as stifling free speech and creating a generation that is more sensitive to opposing opinions – another highly complex societal issue in and of itself.

How should academic institutions respond?

Additional BVA BDRC research has shown that parents are seeking schools that will teach their children “greater resilience for a more challenging future” and the future workplace is certainly set to become more challenging. Fewer people will be under traditional employment contracts, with a less predictable income. Customers will get more demanding and there will be more competition, meaning that a workforce with mental toughness and an entrepreneurial spirit will be required. Furthermore, a more resilient generation is needed to deal with significant social and economic disruption brought about by climate change mitigation measures, geo-political tensions and threats to income from automation and Artificial Intelligence.

Our expectation is that academic institutions teaching the necessary ‘life skills’, those that instil self-discipline and inner strength to “face adversity & challenges” will reap the rewards and become more in demand.

Learn more in our forthcoming report ‘Future Skilling: The question of the future job market and how to prepare our children for it’

BVA BDRC serves a niche in the education sector as specialists in the international school market. The insights raised in this blog are just a small snapshot from our comprehensive report on “Future Skilling” which incorporates the views of both parents and businesses.

The report shines a light on the areas where schools and higher education institutions should be honing their curricular to make school leavers and graduates more employable. These insights can also be used by the HR departments of corporations or corporate trainers to develop new talent in the early stages of their careers.

This article was first published in the Q2 2022 edition of Asia Research Media

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