Never mind the degree, can you spend a king’s ransom?

In between making sums of money that would make King Croesus blush, City of London bosses are moaning about the calibre of UK university graduates applying for work.

They believe there are too many and that most are unprepared for the world of work. And it’s the fault of universities – all 150-plus of them. Apparently, according to a City of London Corporation report, many graduates are unable to manage time and workloads and cannot apply their education practically.

This is prompting City employers to turn to foreign graduates, who are – it seems – more mature than their UK counterparts, and to narrow their recruitment to what the corporation euphemistically calls “a few well-known universities”, such as Oxford and Cambridge.

Well, I’d wager that City bosses’ progeny, after enjoying an expensive private education, will likely attend an Oxbridge college. If not, they’ll probably be at Durham or Bristol, traditional ports of call for public-school types who can’t get into Oxbridge. Whatever – City bosses will know where to go to recruit people like themselves.

As for overseas students being more mature, well they would be: they tend to be older than their UK counterparts when they graduate.

Hit the ground running

What this research tells us is that City bosses are like other bosses – they want graduates to hit the ground running with a minimum of training. This is utterly at odds with the objectives of a traditional university education, which, apart from building students’ subject knowledge, is supposed to focus on the development of their minds and characters. If bosses want graduates with work-related skills, they’d be better advised to look at former polytechnics.

Of more concern to employers should be the decline of hard A-level subjects and the increasing shortage of teachers to teach them.

On the same day Tony Blair told the Labour Party conference about his government’s wondrous achievements in education, my sons told me they were being taught maths by someone who can’t speak enough English to communicate effectively. And French homework comprised of nothing for the first two weeks of term, bar covering exercise books with images that related to France.

This undermining of serious subjects in state schools feeds upon itself and is having a knock-on effect in the world of work. The number of IT graduates is now about 20,000, which is about half of what it was five years ago. Entries for A-level computing are down 41% since 1996, while those for French and German fell 46.7% and 42.1% respectively. Maths entries dropped 17% over that period, while those for physics were down 16.6%.

Yet we can rejoice that entries for media studies rose by almost 250% between 1996 and 2006, and that for sport by 124% and psychology by 120%. Should the global economy demand young people who know their ping-pong from their Carl Jung, we are right on track.

Unfortunately, the fools who operate in key wealth-generating sectors want youngsters with a background in ‘hard’ subjects. For example, the UK software industry – one of the nation’s great success stories of the past 30 years – faces a shortage of suitable graduates. It employs almost one million staff and generates about £20bn a year.

But the generation that pioneered the industry is nearing retirement age and there are insufficient graduates to take their places. This will prompt employers to shift more valuable jobs offshore. In recent years, 40,000 jobs a year have gone that way.

Maybe it’s time employers of IT staff followed the City’s example and abandoned their quest for geeks in favour of foreign graduates who can bring a mature attitude to time management.

John Charlton, editor and training manager

Comments are closed.