Graduate influx addressed at AGR annual conference

How
HR teams will cope with the expected sharp rise in the number of graduates over
the next few years was the central theme of the Association of Graduate
Recruiters’  (AGR) 31st annual
conference in Wales earlier this month.

Latest
figures from the University and College Admissions Service show that 450,147
people applied to UK higher education institutions for entry this autumn, a
rise of 2.9 per cent on last year.

The
Government hopes this number will continue to increase, so that, by 2010, half
of all qualified young people – defined as those with two A-Levels or more –
enter into higher education.

Having
such a large pool of graduates to choose from may seem like an ideal situation
for employers, but the sheer number creates difficulties, delegates at the
conference heard.

The
Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, has received 25,000 job applications for
400 positions over the past two years. “A scary num-ber,” admitted Adrian
Thomas, group resourcing manager at the organisation.

So
how do you sift through that many applications without missing out on
potentially excellent candidates?

Marks
& Spencer responded to the problem by moving virtually its entire graduate
recruitment process online in 2003.

Since
the move, the retailer, which received 6,000 applications for 150 graduate
positions last year, has seen the number of successful candidates going through
its assessment centres rise from 27 to 37 per cent.

John
McElwee, graduate recruitment manager at M&S, said online recruitment has
allowed candidates to demonstrate their skills and talents in a number of ways,
rather than just being able to sell themselves in an interview.

The
online system has also boosted internal efficiency, with recruitment costs down
by 40 per cent, he said.

However,
moving recruitment online can have its pitfalls, delegates were warned.

A
survey of 4,352 organisations, presented at the conference, revealed that 25
per cent of respondents had seen a “significant downturn” in applications from
women since moving recruitment online.

The
women questioned in the survey – carried out by recruitment firm Barkers, City
University and HR software firm Konetic – highlighted the lack of a personal
touch as a key barrier to using online tools.

This
is a common failing of many companies that are too focused on the financial
savings of online recruitment, said Mark Blythe, joint managing director of
careers specialist GTI.

“People
get so excited about automation-related savings that they forget about the
human dimension,” he said. “The perception among many careers advisers and
students is that online systems screen out applicants without giving them a
look-in.”

They
can also prove troublesome for graduate recruiters themselves, said Blythe.
“Line managers expect graduate recruiters to pluck candidates from thin air
because of technology,” he said.

A
comment that brought nods of agreement from more than one graduate recruiter in
the conference audience.

Quotes
from the AGR conference

David
Fairhurst, HR director at Tesco Stores:

“HR
is ‘customer unfriendly’ in the way it deals with graduates. Unless we change
the way we deal with young people as a segment, we are going to struggle with
rising graduate numbers.”

Val
Butcher, senior adviser for employability at the Higher Education Academy:

“We
would like to see tax breaks for employers to allow proper work experience
placements as well as dedicated staff at universities to prepare students for
placements.”

Harriet
Kenyon, manager for the International Leadership Development Programme at
manufacturing firm GKN:

“Graduates
don’t look at things and think ‘that’s too difficult’. They just come up with a
solution because they want to make their mark.”

M&S
online recruitment: How it works


Graduates applying to M&S are firstly asked to fill out an eligibility
test, covering issues such as willingness to work certain hours.


If they fulfil the criteria, they are then asked to fill out their personal
details before taking psychometric tests – which M&S has tested for
viability over a period of three years – on ability and occupational
personality.


Successful candidates are then invited to schedule themselves for an interview
at a regional assessment centre – which has cut down the number of ‘no-shows’.

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