Firms dangerously out of touch with graduates

The ‘war for talent’ is a ubiquitous phrase in HR circles;  attracting the best and brightest recruits is often at the top of the business agenda.
But employers are “dangerously disconnected” from graduates and have to change their attitude towards the new, incoming workforce, a report from think-tank Demos has warned.

Businesses in the UK need to improve their cultural understanding of young people’s mindsets, the researchers said.

The Working Progress: How to reconnect young people and organisations study of 539 graduates and 50 FTSE HR directors, commissioned by mobile operator Orange, found that employers were too focused on academic achievements and risked alienating potential recruits.

Sarah Gillinson, report author and researcher at Demos, said: “The current focus on qualifications and university places has diverted attention from the changing cultural values of young people. While graduates need to improve softer skills, employers need to go back to school to learn what motivates their future recruits.”

The research highlighted a gulf of misunderstanding between graduates and employers. Most graduates (91%) said they were well prepared for the workplace, but employers had serious reservations, with just over half (54%) saying it was difficult to find university leavers with the right skills.

Almost four in 10 graduates said they had issues juggling work-life balance in their new jobs, and just one in four expected to be in the same company in five years.

Sir Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI, said the research indicated a departure from the traditional skills-shortage debate.

“Understanding the personal and professional needs of today’s university leavers is essential for the growth of UK business, as we cannot expect employers to connect properly with graduates when they are speaking in different languages,” he said.

The job market is constantly changing, as are the expectations and values of young job hunters, the report stated.

Alison Hodgson, chairwoman of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, agreed that university leavers were more informed about the global economy than ever before. “Young people are no longer willing to accept the status quo,” she said.

But, according to Hodgson, employers were conscious of a change in the mindsets of university leavers. “Employers are aware of a change in expectations and values and are trying hard to bridge the gap,” she said.

Jones said the report highlighted the need to address the skills gap and reassess priorities. “For too long, the issue of the skills gap has been an exercise in finger-pointing and blame-avoidance,” he said. “It is time to turn this round and create a positive sum game involving employers, government, the education system and, of course, the graduates.”

Graduate recruitment 

Report recommendations

Employers should recognise work-life balance as a skill and implement it as part of their legal framework and company policies.

Employers should offer legal and financial advice to university leavers.

The government should support the introduction of an Investors in Community accreditation for businesses, to encourage and recognise businesses’ contributions to the wider community.

Companies and graduates should work together to create an open access resource that allows young people to build their own development programmes.

Schools should hold once-a-term equivalents of ‘parents’ evenings’ for local businesses and community organisations.

Source: Demos/Orange

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