Failing to make the grade?

Today’s graduates are technical wizards with poor interpersonal skills,
according to UK managers. Simon Kent asks readers what needs to be done to
polish the new intake

Three-quarters of employers admit that new graduates have good IT skills,
but less than a third are impressed by their ability to communicate and barely
a quarter rate most of their other basic skills, according to the latest
research from the Chartered Management Institute and the London College of

The research highlights the gap between employers’ expectations of graduates
and the level of interpersonal skills graduate recruits offer.

Building on a survey done in September 2000, the new research found some
improvements in manager perceptions of graduates’ basic skills and
communications ability, however, there were still shortfalls in interpersonal
skills, particularly in political and diplomatic skills.

But are all graduate recruiters experiencing these deficiencies and what, if
anything, are they doing to address the skills gap?

Simon Wilsher
Managing director, The Wilsher Group

In the current climate, firms need
their graduates to hit the ground running – transforming themselves from
graduate to productive businessperson almost overnight. As a training company
working with graduates, we advise blue-chips to give college leavers, who have
the skills to achieve academically, the tools that give them the confidence to
communicate and succeed in the working world. 
We see the following as important: self confidence; positive attitude;
interpersonal skills; communication skills and emotional drive.

Rob Hogan
Professional services director, Dolland & Aitchison

Optometry is a very vocational degree
and graduates are highly-trained and skilled to pass exams, but that covers the
skills behind what they do rather than behaviour.

I started a programme several years ago to offer interpersonal
skills at an undergraduate level and now many colleges include a module about
these kinds of abilities. Together with the training company Interaction, we
now run a week long induction programme which helps students gain the
behavioural, communication and interpersonal skills they need.

We are trying to supplement the students knowledge and give
them the skills and attitudes the universities don’t have time to address.

Martyn Steele
Group graduate recruitment manager, Halifax Bank of Scotland

Graduate recruitment is becoming a
larger field of activity for major employers such as ourselves and
interpersonal skills are at a premium in an increasingly service-based economy.
I believe the demand has risen rather than the graduate population being

We do put a lot of onus on these skills, but in the case of
more subtle skills such as negotiation skills and so on, I would question how
far a responsible employer would expect to find those skills in a graduate.
There’s plenty of raw material out there and employers need to create
assessment processes that allow graduates to demonstrate their capabilities.

Peter Mckinlay
Head of people development, Asda

When you have a company culture as
strong as ours, the challenge is to bring in people who are adaptable, flexible
and people-focused. I don’t think you can expect people with almost zero work
experience to fit our people profile fantastically well so it’s the old
practice of hiring for attitude and training for skills. We don’t need to tick
off a list of skills such as managing meetings or demonstrating the ability to
manage people because graduates have raw talent. If you have an expectation
that they have anything else you run the risk of being disappointed.

Carl Gilleard
Chief executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters

One reason for the gap is that
employer expectations have risen. 
Employers now look for ‘oven ready’ graduates. There are far fewer
backroom jobs so you need good interpersonal skills because graduates are
dealing with customers immediately – whether they be internal or external.
There is an issue around the way we identify interpersonal skills.

Employers should be more encouraging in this area – perhaps
stressing in interviews that they are interested in any work experience and the
skills learned as a result.

Michele Dytham-Ward
Manager of management development and education, Abbey National

We have always been aware of the need
for interpersonal skills among graduate recruits and address these in our
induction programme. We recognise there is a transition between leaving
university and coming into a first job and we view this positively in terms of
giving life skills, self awareness, self development and team-building. These
elements are an integral part of the induction programme.

Changes to the programme have been due to changes in our
business as well as in the graduates themselves.


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